Belfast Telegraph

Defence is the best form of attack for Northern Ireland in Euro 2010 campaign

By Stuart McKinley

Nigel Worthington will reshape his defence for the kick-off of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

And the Northern Ireland manager might not stop there.

The two players who have occupied the full-back roles in every game so far this year will be in Coleraine rather than Maribor when the battle to reach the finals in Poland and Ukraine starts away to Slovenia next Friday evening.

Andy Little of Rangers and Manchester City’s Ryan McGivern — who has headed out on-loan to Walsall this season — both played against Albania, Turkey and Chile on the end-of-season tour and were also in the team that went down 2-0 to Montenegro just less than a fortnight ago.

Now, however, the pair have been sent back to Steve Beaglehole’s under-21 squad, with Worthington going for experience as Northern Ireland return to competitive action.

They will be joined there, in the squad to take on San Marino in the UEFA under-21 Championships, by Oliver Norwood, who made his debut as a second-half substitute against Montenegro.

Captain Aaron Hughes missed that outing in Podgorica through injury, he will return and go straight into the team.

Who fills the other slot in defence remains to be seen. The place will be George McCartney’s if he is fit — even though he is yet to kick a ball this season after not being included in Sunderland’s squad list by manager Steve Bruce.

McCartney wasn’t in Montenegro either after picking up a pre-season injury — indeed he has played in only three of the 10 internationals since coming off at half-time when Northern Ireland last met Slovenia back in April of last year.

Should McCartney be ruled out again then another man who missed the last game, Gareth McAuley, will get the nod.

It’s in midfield and up-front that there are still plenty of question marks remaining.

Worthington experimented with a different formation in Montenegro, employing Kyle Lafferty as a lone striker, with Martin Paterson and Chris Brunt supposed to be providing support from the wide areas and Chris Baird, Sammy Clingan and Steven Davis making up a midfield three — with Baird protecting the back four.

The system was largely considered to be a flop, mainly down to the fact that Lafferty got little support or supply at all.

With the same players selected for Slovenia and the same problems surrounding David Healy,

who like McCartney hasn’t been given a squad number at Sunderland and is likely to be on the move before the transfer window closes next Tuesday, just how Worthington goes about setting his team up to score goals is the biggest test that he will face.

Especially considering that the 12-month anniversary of the last goal — Kyle Lafferty’s strike in Poland last September — is approaching.

Still, however, finding a way to use the enigmatic Pat McCourt is a mystery yet to be solved. Despite the fact that he yet again showed his sublime talents with a wonderful individual goal for Celtic on the opening day of the season against Inverness.

He possess the class to open defences in a sudden burst, but international football has eluded him.

Belfast Telegraph

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