Belfast Telegraph

Baraclough not taking anything for granted ahead of Slovakia clash

Slovakia v N Ireland: UEFA U21 Championship qualifier: Senica, Tonight, 7.30pm

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland under-21 boss Ian Baraclough is searching for a hat-trick of wins tonight to continue his superb start to the job.

Baraclough's youngsters kicked-off their campaign with a 2-1 victory in Estonia and last week defeated Albania 1-0 at home.

The latest challenge is the toughest one to date away to Slovakia, but a win in Senica would offer the Northern Ireland kids hope in their challenging quest to qualify for the 2019 tournament.

The winners of the nine groups automatically go to the finals with the four best runners-up advancing to the play-offs.

Spain, who play their first match of the campaign in Estonia tonight, are favourites to top Northern Ireland's group, which also contains Iceland, but Baraclough's team should be greatly encouraged by their promising opening.

"When I was offered the job and it was explained to me, I was told 'We don't win games of football at this level'. History tells you that there haven't been too many wins so to get two victories on board in our first two games in the campaign has been fantastic," said Baraclough.

"We won't take anything for granted though just because we have won a couple of matches. We will continue to work hard."

Baraclough added: "I want as many players as possible to be playing senior football. If they're playing senior football then you're being exposed to situations where people are after three points and people's livelihoods are at stake, rather than under-23 games which don't mean a great deal at times.

"If they're playing senior football then they certainly know what it's about."

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