Belfast Telegraph

Magilton confident Northern Ireland will bounce back at Windsor

By Stuart McKinley

Northern Ireland’s first-half performance in Friday night’s 2-1 defeat to Serbia has given former international captain Jim Magilton reason to believe that qualifying for a major finals is more than just a dream.

And the former Ipswich Town manager wants to see the team go for broke against Slovenia tomorrow night, boosted by the confidence he insists they should take, despite the unbeaten record in the Euro 2012 qualifiers coming to an end.

Having led 1-0 at half-time in Belgrade thanks to Gareth McAuley’s header, there was a real belief that Nigel Worthington’s men could follow up last September’s 1-0 triumph in Slovenia with another fantastic away victory.

That was before they came under a Serbian onslaught after the break and finally the pressure told as Marko Pantelic and Zoran Tosic scored within nine minutes of each other to record a home victory.

“The team really played well and the system worked a treat for 60 minutes — especially during the first half,” said proud Northern Ireland man Magilton.

“A team like Serbia who retain the ball so well, especially at home, are always going to be difficult to beat, but to have been in the position we were after 45 minutes, when we were in front and looked comfortable, composed and were in control should give the players confidence.

“There have been big problems away from home in the past, but now we are competitive in these games having won in Slovenia and it’s very pleasing to see.

“We weren’t competitive away from home in previous campaigns, but we were so close to qualifying.

“Had we done as well in the away games as we have already in this group and been able to match our home form, we would have been at a major finals.

“To come away from that game on Friday night so disappointed not to have got something from it is a good sign.”

Magilton will be working as a match analyst for television when Slovenia come to Windsor Park tomorrow night and his message is to go for it.

“It’s difficult with such a short turnaround between the two games, but the young lads will have benefitted so much from the game against Serbia,” said Magilton.

“Craig Cathcart has played very well in the Premier League this season, but he won’t have come up agianst that type of movement before. The step-up in class will have done him no harm at all.

“We’ve seen that Slovenia are beatable. There are still four home games to come — we should be looking at least to win three of them and there is no reason Serbia can’t be beaten at Windsor Park as well. We proved that with our display out in Belgrade.

“The away game in Estonia is winnable, so there’s every chance that second place can be achieved.

“It’s now a case of gaining some momentum, keeping concentration and we can certainly win at Windsor.”

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