Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: This was a complete embarrassment, a pathetic, limp display

I’ve never been a big fan of international friendlies. Especially in March. More so when the venue is in a place that even Wayne Bridge wouldn’t send John Terry to!

But that’s what Northern Ireland faced last night.

Irish FA President Raymond Kennedy told us he would arrange a glamour game for the first fixture of the year for our boys.

He got Albania! Away from home on a pudding of a pitch.

You shouldn’t be surprised. It just about sums up Kennedy’s reign as the IFA’s top man.

Promising much and delivering precious little.

Still, that was better than the Northern Ireland side last night because they delivered nothing at all.

In a long list of pitiful performances over the years in friendlies the 1-0 defeat to an extremely limited Albanian side in the Qemal Stafa Stadium comes close to the top.

It was appalling, lacking heart, desire, intelligence and the slightest hint of quality.

If I didn’t know them better I would have said that the Northern Ireland players, renowned for their commitment to the cause, didn’t want to be in Tirana.

Yes, the surface was atrocious and I know our lads had fears about picking up injuries but it didn’t seem to bother the Albanians too much.

They were able to do basics right — like pass the ball to one another. It’s a pity Nigel Worthington’s team didn’t try it more often. All over the pitch Northern Ireland let themselves down.

Even allowing for the fact that a makeshift back four had to be selected, defensively they were shambolic at times.

And the free-kick conceded by George McCartney which allowed Albania to take the lead was just downright stupid.

Credit to that household name Ervin Skela for his stunning strike — the only bit of class in the 90 minutes — but he should never have been given the chance.

In midfield there was no creative spark whatsoever, strange really given that Steven Davis played for all of the match.

And up front David Healy and Kyle Lafferty hardly got a kick.

It’s amazing to think that Northern Ireland’s most dangerous player proved to be Motherwell defender Stephen Craigan.

Craigan hit the post twice from set pieces when the visitors finally threatened to wake up in the second half.

Too little, too late though. Northern Ireland got exactly what they deserved. A big fat zero.

It was depressing stuff. It’s one thing losing, but when you surrender like this questions must be asked of players and management. Not what the fans expect. In particular I felt sorry for those who made the long and expensive trip. They sang their hearts out. They did their bit but were let down by the underperforming blokes in the white shirts on the pitch.

Those players should have done a post match whipround and handed the Northern Ireland supporters the cost of their flights and accommodation. Talking about money, this was the first match for Worthington since he agreed that bank-busting new contract with the IFA.

Nigel is in a great position because the powers that be at Windsor Avenue are in a financial mess and cannot afford to pay him off before the two year deal ends. But any more of this rubbish when the European Championship qualifiers begin in September and the fans will be sending in donations in order to change the manager.

Meaningless friendly or not this really was a shocking, abysmal, pathetic, limp display from Northern Ireland. I could go on but in short this fixture proved to be a complete embarrassment from start to finish.

Belfast Telegraph

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