Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Steven Beacom: Fifth place? Our players are far better than that

Rangers star Steve Davis is considered the best player in Scotland and also a key man for Northern Ireland
Rangers star Steve Davis is considered the best player in Scotland and also a key man for Northern Ireland

In modern sport there is great store amongst managers about finding something positive from a game, a performance and even a defeat.

So, I tried it this week when reflecting on Northern Ireland’s 4-1 loss to Estonia last month.

Talk about a tough task because it was a humiliating and embarrassing result that left our national team in fifth place in the Group C Euro 2012 qualifying table. And this in a group when at the very worst third place was the target.

There’s still time to move up, but while I believe we should beat Estonia on home turf on Friday night, the trip to Italy next week suggests the highest we can realistically hope for is to finish in fourth.

I genuinely believe our players are better than that.

Yes, I’m aware we are a small nation and have limited numbers to choose from, therefore will always be up against it.

I get it — but the way we’ve thrown points away with sloppy mistakes and some shocking displays in this campaign has nothing to do with the size of our country, which incidentally is bigger than Estonia.

I was fiercely critical of the players after losing the last two games at home to Serbia and in Estonia.

If our players were all rubbish footballers, I’d have written the old ‘died with their boots on’ line that other eager to please media men here peddle, but once again I state our Northern Ireland team is better than that and even with the absentees in certain games due to injury and silly suspensions should not be languishing in fifth place in Group C. Take a look at the players and you’ll see why.

Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Lee Camp was a target for Premier League clubs in the summer.

On the defensive front I’ve been saying for years that Chris Baird and the retiring Aaron Hughes are two of the most under-rated players in English football. Without them Fulham would not have got to the Europa League final and become such an established top flight club.

Gareth McAuley is now in the Premier League at WBA. He’ll stay there too because he’s got character and ability.

Craig Cathcart showed those qualities with Blackpool last season and then there’s Jonny Evans — he’s a key figure for Manchester United for goodness sake!

Move to midfield and Steve Davis is the best player in Scotland — bar none — and would walk into just about every top team in England.

Ask any manager in England when his team is facing WBA and the one player they pick out is Chris Brunt — that’s how highly he is rated.

Sammy Clingan and Grant McCann are excellent passers of a football, fine set-piece exponents and captains of their respective clubs Coventry and Peterborough, while further forward Niall McGinn, Paddy McCourt and Warren Feeney offer pace, poise and passion.

Kyle Lafferty is growing in stature as a player and has the potential to become a true Kop idol at Windsor Park, maybe not to the same legendary status as David Healy, but up there all the same.

So, you see there is talent there. This Northern Ireland side is nowhere near as bad as the defeat in Estonia suggested. Let’s hope they show that on Friday night.

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