Nations League: NI boss Ian Baraclough calls on players to block out noise and win all four games

Northern Ireland’s record goalscorer David Healy was at Windsor on Wednesday morning as the squad trained
Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast Date: Thursday, 2 June Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster, follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and watch highlights on BBC Two NI (22:30 BST)

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has called on his players to ignore “outside noise” and win all four of their opening Nations League matches.

Baraclough accepts that the expectancy of supporters will have risen with his side having been relegated to the third tier of the competition.

NI begin their campaign at home to Greece on Thursday night, the first of four matches in the space of 10 days.

“We’ve all got to deal with that,” he said when asked about added pressure.

“There are always going to be games where there are outside influences and noise that goes on, people will say you are favourites for games and you should be winning games.

“As players, coaches and managers, we’ve all learnt to deal with that from where we have come from. Let the noise go on outside the group, let people speculate on what you should and shouldn’t do, concentrate on what you’re doing within the group and keep it within that.

“Take care of the processes that get you into a position of winning games, and I think we have done that in the main. I can only think of two or three periods of games, certainly the Norway game at Windsor, was a case when were underprepared due to Covid but we were not at the races and you get hurt.

“We have learnt from those experiences and in recent games, even when we haven’t won, we have created plenty of chances. Hopefully we see that in these four games.”

Baraclough ‘desperate’ for first Nations League victory

Jonny Evans
Leicester City defender Jonny Evans is one of the more experienced members of a young Northern Ireland

Caolan Boyd-Munce and Jordan Thompson will miss the opening match due to injury, though are likely to be fit for the rest, while Conor Washington did not take part in training in Belfast on Wednesday.

After Greece at Windsor, Northern Ireland’s busy League C Group 2 schedule takes them to Cyprus on Sunday with another away fixture against Kosovo on 9 June before they complete their opening quadruple-header at home to Cyprus on 12 June.

The team are yet to win a match in the competition, losing eight and drawing two so far, and Baraclough is determined to address that record.

He was also bullish when asked if he had a points total that he expected from the opening four matches.

“Twelve. Why wouldn’t you?,” he said.

“I think we have a squad that can go and win all four games. We are playing against opposition that are also targeting 12 points but I don’t think it’s a bad thing for me to be demanding four wins if we can.”

He added: “I think I’m a winner. I think everyone is a winner in this dressing room, nobody likes losing games of football.

“I’m as desperate as anybody to say that we have won a game in the Nations League so that you [the media] can go on to something different to talk about.

“It’s things like that, nobody likes to be criticised, you pick holes in certain areas, that is your job but for us it is about getting the processes right to win games of football. Give yourself chances to win and it is on the night – sometimes it goes for you and sometimes it doesn’t.”

New call-ups ‘are here to play’

Glentoran winger Conor McMenamin
Glentoran winger Conor McMenamin is one of four new Northern Ireland call-ups

With a number of senior players missing for various reasons, Baraclough has selected a youthful 28-man squad, with four new call-ups in Man City’s Shea Charles, Huddersfield Town’s Brodie Spencer, Charlie McCann of Rangers and Conor McMenamin of Glentoran.

The manager, who stepped up to take over the senior side after a successful spell as Under-21 boss, has always shown faith in young players and says there is every chance the four new faces will make their debuts during this international window.

“They’re here to play. They have not come to make up the numbers or be training fodder.

“They’re here because they’re good players and we see a future. We’ve always used this tournament as a chance to give them experience and we still see it as a tournament like that, even though we also know the benefits of winning games and going for top spot.

“You’ve only got to look at our neighbours Scotland and how they got through to the Euros and that was via the play-offs.

“It’s something we can’t turn our nose up at, for sure. It’s about finding the right balance to do that. This is what we’ve been dealt with, let’s go and deal with it, some players out, some new ones in, and we will strive to get top spot in our league and see where that takes us.”

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