Belfast Telegraph

Carroll making strong case for Northern Ireland defence against Portugal

By James Tait

Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll believes manager Michael O’Neill has enough quality in the squad to deal with any injuries.

Defender Craig Cathcart has already withdrawn from the squad with a knee injury, prompting uncapped Kilmarnock defender Rory McKeown to be called into the fold.

It is a place that may well have been filled by Liverpool teenager Ryan McLaughlin, but the youngster has told Michael O’Neill that he does not want to be considered for international duty at the moment as he wants to focus on his club career.

O’Neill may well be facing a defensive crisis, as former captain Aaron Hughes and Ryan McGivern were yesterday revealed to be major doubts for both the Portugal and Luxembourg games.

With Daniel Lafferty suspended, it means only Gareth McAuley will survive from the back four who shut out Russia last month.

But Carroll, who looks set to win his 28th cap tomorrow night, has taken the news in his stride and believes another upset may be on the cards.

“It’s pretty bad having three players missing from the last game. But that’s international football, it happens — we have to get on with it,” he said.

“We’re playing against Portugal so the boys will be up for it and hopefully we’ll get a good result like we did against the Russians. The boys are still on a high from the last game. It’s always difficult choosing the back four but I’m looking forward to the game, it’s a challenge. I’ve been around a long time and I’m experienced and Jonny Evans is back so we have a lot of experience at the back. We have two Premiership players in the centre so it’s not only me but Jonny Evans and Big G (Gareth McAuley) as well.”

The man from Enniskillen ranks last month’s victory over Fabio Capello’s Russia as “one of the biggest” in Northern Ireland’s history.

He said: “It’s up with the best, like beating England and beating Spain. But we have a completely different team now; we have young players and experienced players. The win against Russia wasn’t a fluke, it was great football from the first minute. We attacked them and played really good football.

“Everybody says Russia were bad but I think we made them look bad by the way we played.

“It was nice to get the monkey off our backs. Michael has done so well and the players just want to show their appreciation and show the supporters what we’ve been trying to do.

“We’ve been playing decent football and it showed after the game against the Russians how delighted we were; for the manager, the coaches, the physios and everybody here.”

Carroll, however, didn’t want to dwell too much on Michael O’Neill’s first win. The big man is firmly focused on tomorrow night, and says his team-mates are too.

“The Russia game is over now and we’re looking to Portugal. It’s going to be a different game because they’ve got great players who move very fast and they attack from all over the pitch so we have to prepare for the game.

“It’s going to be difficult but every game we play in is difficult, especially for a small country, but I think they players are ready for it.”

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