Northern Ireland taught game management lesson, admits boss Ian Baraclough
Posted On October 13, 2021
Ian Baraclough was left to lament an all-too-familiar story for Northern Ireland as a lack of sharpness proved decisive in a 2-1 World Cup qualifying loss to Bulgaria
After Saturday’s controversial 2-0 loss to Switzerland left hopes of going to Qatar hanging by a thread, a second-half meltdown in Sofia cut them off decisively as Todor’s handsome brace Nedelev called off Conor Washington’s strike in the first half.
As disappointing as the second-half performance was, Northern Ireland had dominated before the break and should have been more than a goal clear as Paddy McNair headed straight for the goalkeeper at point blank, while Josh Magennis and Washington missed other opportunities. .
“When we were dominating, creating chances, bringing a lot of balls into the box, it was causing them problems,” said Baraclough.
“We had bodies in the box and had some really good chances, Paddy’s header probably being the main one – the goalkeeper made a great save, but Paddy will be disappointed he didn’t put him in the corner opposite.
“Josh had a header, I think Conor had one and there were a few half-chances. Then, in a 20-minute period in the second half, they had two half chances and the ball is in the net.
“It’s a lesson for us in the management of the game. We were in good control in the first half and then it’s about making sure that when they do have their lot, we take away their chances. We didn’t, it got torn up a bit and it cost us. “
After the anger and frustration of the defeat in Geneva, shaped by the contested first-half red card given to Jamal Lewis, Northern Ireland traveled to Sofia determined to fight for their classification and pose a milestone for the qualification campaigns to come.
But last month’s positive performance momentum quickly dissipated for the shorthanded Baraclough side, unable to adjust to the changes Bulgaria made at the break.
“We are very disappointed,” he added. “We knew at half-time that it was our game to continue and win by more. It was not complacency, we came out with the same state of mind. In the first two or three minutes we had that, but for some reason it went down and we gave them a little more space.
“We couldn’t win the second balls and that allows them to go higher up in the park. It was two great strikes, you can’t take that away from (Nedelev), but he was someone we identified, we knew he was a danger on his left side. “
The defeat sees Northern Ireland slip to fourth place, three points behind Bulgaria in Group C, with only Italy and Switzerland still in contention for tickets to Qatar.
Baraclough’s men will end the campaign next month with home games against Lithuania and Italy, desperate to give Windsor Park fans something to celebrate.
“I told the guys over there you have to make sure you’re on the squad in three or four weeks,” the manager added.
“It’s still a quick turnaround and there can be no guarantees. We have a lot of bumps and bruises in there. The guys will be going back to their clubs and will have to make sure they prepare well to be ready for the weekend and to play twice a week and then get back in the best shape possible.
“I hope we have a stronger team to choose from, as we have been decimated by injuries over the past few days.”