Belfast Telegraph

Estonia v Northern Ireland: Our fans are best in world, insists Nigel Worthington

By Steven Beacom

Under pressure? Feeling the heat? Deflated?



None of the above. Nigel Worthington was determined to accentuate the positives yesterday before tonight's crunch match with Estonia.

He was cool, calm and collected and even took the time to crack a few jokes during his Press conference. Had some of our previous international managers had a replica shirt thrown at them by an angry fan, as happened to Nigel during Friday night's 1-0 defeat at home to Serbia, to go along with the mounting criticism from the stands, their reactions would have ranged from outrage to a feeling of betrayal.

Worthington wasn't fuming or sorry for himself at the lack of support.

Indeed when I asked him about the fans — 1,200 of whom are in Tallinn for tonight's game — he couldn't have been more complimentary. “They're the best supporters in the world and nothing has changed my opinion of them,” said Worthington.

“They’re fantastic home and away and we are grateful to have them. The noise from the 1,200 of them will be magnificent against Estonia and it will be very much appreciated.”

On the shirt being thrown at him — unfairly in my book — Worthington said: “I only saw it lying on the ground because I was focused on the game. To be honest, that’s up to the individual, that’s his decision and doesn’t affect us in any shape or form. I’ve not even thought about it.”

Worthington, flanked by IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson wearing tee-shirt and shorts (can't recall his predecessor Howard Wells in the same relaxed attire), added that he felt no tension or pressure.

When I brought up the thorny subject of “negative tactics”, there was a professional response. Honesty too, which everyone, even his biggest critics, should admire.

“Are my tactics negative? No. I set out not to lose the game and during it set out to win,” he stated with a self-belief, which will hopefully transmit to the players for tonight's game.

Reflecting on the Serbian defeat, he added: “In the second half on Friday had we taken our chances when they came along we could have won the game. In the first half we struggled but that was because we didn’t pass the ball well enough, that was the problem. But in terms of being negative, no. That's not my way.”

Worthington joked about the make-up of the team with this correspondent in particular. I've probably been his fiercest critic in the Northern Ireland media, who enjoy an excellent relationship with him, but to his credit, he's never moaned about the jibes and wasn't going to start yesterday. Having been around the game for over 30 years as a highly respected player and manager, nothing much fazes the Ballymena man.

He left yesterday's Press gathering with a big smile on his face and a thumbs up. Here's hoping we see the same expression after the final whistle tonight.

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