Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Loss of Paddy McCourt little comfort to Northern Ireland

Paddy McCourt

Nigel Worthington has lost one member of his Old Firm contingent and added another to the Northern Ireland squad that will face Italy at Windsor Park on Friday night.

Mr Versatility: Andrew Little has been drafted into Nigel Worthington’s squad to face Italy at Windsor Park on Friday evening after Celtic’s Patrick McCourt withdrew with a shoulder injury

The fans who had been waiting with eager anticipation to see what Paddy McCourt could do to the Italians — if given the chance — will now be disappointed after the shoulder injury the Celtic man sustained against Kilmarnock a couple of weeks ago is still causing enough trouble to force his withdrawal from the squad.

Niall McGinn has yet to start a match for Celtic this season; he will be in the squad, though, after recovering from a broken metatarsal.

McCourt, on the other hand, will have to wait until next month’s friendly at home to Morocco for the chance to add to the three caps he has won so far, over a period of eight years.

In McCourt’s absence Worthington has called upon Rangers Andrew Little and his versatility — he has played right-back, midfield and in attack during his fledgling international career — could come in useful, not only against the Italians, but in the Faroe Islands a week today.

The Northern Ireland squad will assemble this afternoon and Worthington’s medical staff will assess Craig Cathcart’s fitness after he was withdrawn 20 minutes into Blackpool’s 2-1 win over Liverpool on Sunday.

Cathcart’s outstanding performance when playing out of position at left-back on what was his international debut in the 1-0 win over Slovenia last month has given Worthington a selection headache.

Does he reward Cathcart by sticking with him or does he bring Jonny Evans — who isn’t a left-back either, but that is where he has played most of his international football — back into the team?

We’ll find out on Friday night, but given his experiences of the past when putting a team together has been difficult it’s a great selection dilemma for Worthington.

And the Italians have injury trouble too, with two players already ruled out of Friday’s game.

Striker Alberto Gilardino — who ended a scoring drought when he netted against the Faroe Islands last month — will be missing, as will fill-back Luca Antonelli. Riccardo Montolivio wasn’t included in the squad, amid suggestions he’d been dropped, but it has since transpired that he is injured.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is already down on numbers and that may lead to a change on how he sets up his team for the Windsor Park clash.

“I don’t have a lot of forwards who can play wide,” Prandelli said.

“I want to put the opposition under pressure and a diamond midfield could be an alternative.”

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