Belfast Telegraph

Give Nigel Worthington a break: IFA chief

By Graham Luney

Jim Shaw has pleaded with disgruntled Northern Ireland fans to give Nigel Worthington a break.

Worthington suffered a torrent of abuse from a section of Northern Ireland fans after the 4-1 defeat in Estonia that has left his side praying for a miracle in their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

The back-to-back games against Serbia and Estonia were always going to be decisive - not only for Northern Ireland's hopes of qualifying but also for Worthington's future as the international boss.

The cards started to fall against him when injuries ruled Paddy McCourt and Kyle Lafferty out of the Serbia game and then Sammy Clingan was consigned to his sick bed.

Jonny Evans was then suspended for the Estonia clash and it was shocking defensive errors that brought Worthington's world crashing down.

One fuming fan hurled his Northern Ireland shirt at Worthington during the Serbia defeat and after the game in Tallinn the former Norwich City boss was subjected to verbal abuse from some supporters.

While most fans feel that the Irish FA should consider a change at the top, the overwhelming majority would agree that the former left-back, who played for his country 66 times, should be spared personal attacks.

Irish FA president Shaw didn't witness the verbal assault on Worthington but he feels criticism must be measured.

"I think sometimes we need to take a step back and recognise that people are doing jobs to the best of their ability and no one is going out to play badly," said Shaw.

"I'm a supporter like the next person and I share the frustrations that we have all felt but I would always like to think that supporters would stay behind the manager and players - get behind their team.

"There is bitter disappointment when a game is lost but when you sit down in the cold light of day the morning after you realise that you will keep supporting the team.

"I didn't see the fans having a go at Nigel and they were probably isolated incidents but I would encourage supporters to get behind him and the team. Although I would not wish to over-emphasise the point, the reality is that we still have an outside chance of qualifying for the European Championships and hopefully we can finish strongly." It's widely expected that Worthington will step aside at the end of the campaign and if that happens the Ballymena man deserves to make a dignified exit.

When the Irish FA reflect on another qualifying campaign that is in danger of ending with a whimper, they will look for a fresh injection of ideas.

"It's been our policy to look at things in a two-year cycle and see how the team is playing and what decisions need to be taken regarding the future," said Shaw.

Worthington will today name his squad for the final two matches of the Group C campaign - home to Estonia on Friday week and away to Italy on October 11.

Long-serving skipper Aaron Hughes has signalled his intention to hang up the green jersey at the end of the campaign and if other senior players make the same call, Northern Ireland could be making a fresh start in the next World Cup qualifiers in more ways than one.

With a transitional period in prospect, the outlook is not particularly rosy for a team that has slipped to 70th in the Fifa world rankings.

"We were in pot four for the last World Cup draw and naturally we wouldn't want to go down further," said Shaw. "We went from 124 to as high as the top 30 but sometimes I think the ratings are bizarre as England won two games and went down the rankings.

"You can lose a game and go up. The fact is that there isn't sufficient cover when we lose key players in the squad."

That's the key point - a manager is only as good as the players he's working with.

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