Northern Ireland must be ruthless, not toothless, warns Nigel Worthington
Nigel Worthington is demanding that his team develop a ruthless streak if history is going to be made over the next two years.
And the Northern Ireland manager is desperate to avoid the kind of unwanted landmark that the team created under Sammy McIlroy.
Worthington has sat on the bench through the last seven games without being able to cheer a goal. It was 13 when Sammy Mac was in charge.
That dismal streak has to end if Worthington is to lead his men into a first European Championship finals.
If only everything in Northern Ireland football were that simple.
With the farcical situation of resignations and back-tracking that has gone on within the Irish FA over the last few days it would be easy to forget that there is a qualifying campaign kicking off in 10 days time.
Raymond Kennedy has been embroiled in so many twists and turns he could be useful on the wing for Worthington!
And after only three wins in an opening qualifying game in the last 35 years, Northern Ireland have scarcely needed a goal more than when they head to Slovenia for the start of the Euro 2012 on Friday week.
After that Italy come to Windsor Park in October. If those two games come and go without a goal being scored — against teams who played in this summer’s World Cup — then a trip to the Faroe Islands could bring some respite.
“It’s a team game where defenders on set-pieces or whoever have to throw their hat into the ring and score goals,” said Worthington.
“When we get opportunities we’ve got to take them. We created opportunities last time and we didn’t take them.
“We’ve got to become more ruthless in front of goal and I won’t put the onus on the strikers alone, because that’s unfair.
“Throughout the team, whether you are a defender a midfielder, wide player or striker, we need goals and it will be down to every individual to get onto the end of balls to create chances and put them away.
“Slovenia are very much the same as when we last played them. There are no frills with them. It’ll be toe-to-toe and like out there the last time it could well take a late goal to win the game.
“Time will tell if we’ve got Slovenia and Italy at the right times. We know what Slovenia are about and we’ve got to make sure that we are ready for that one.
“The Italy game will look after itself. They are in a time of change, but they will still have good players.”
Half a dozen of Worthington's squad are now over 30 and for Maik Taylor (38) and Stephen Craigan (33) this is almost certainly their last chance to play for their country in a major finals.
Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Grant McCann and David Healy don’t have time on their side either, with the next World Cup coming after their 34th birthdays.
“Time doesn’t stand still for anyone,” said Worthington.
“They will do as they always do, which is go out and give their best. In terms of how long players go on for, it’s something that each individual to assess when the times is right.
“I don’t think any of our players need extra motivation. There is no player who goes out to under achieve. In this squad there is nobody more proud to pull the shirt on and go and give their all.
“Sometimes it pays off in terms of results and sometimes it doesn’t, but even the best players have an off night.”
On the pitch, Craig Cathcart’s move from Manchester United to Blackpool — and the Premier League football that goes with it — has propelled him into the senior squad. He is as yet uncapped, but did travel to San Marino 18-months ago.
“Craig Cathcart has got himself into the Premier League with Blackpool, played the first couple of games and done very well,” said Worthington.
“He should be pushing into the seniors. Centre-half is one area where we have depth, Craig is an up and coming young players and we’re hoping now that he’ll make his mark with Blackpool.”
Still there is no place for Pat McCourt. One wonders what he has to do to be called up.
Instead Worthington has again selected 17-year-old Johnny Gorman — the youngster who combines his football with Wolverhampton Wanderers with studying for A Levels. Brings a new meaning to schoolboy international.
Including the Sheffield-born kid is a move that can be well justified by Worthington though — and don’t be surprised if he makes an appearance against Slovenia.
The Republic of Ireland have also had Gorman in an underage squad and after the Court of Arbitration backed the FAI’s stance on northern-born players qualifying for their teams the gloves are off in the eligibility battle.
A cap in a competitive game for Northern Ireland end their hopes of having Gorman in future squads. After losing a handful of players to the Republic over the last few years, getting one back will be seen as a result.
Northern Ireland squad: Taylor (Birmingham), Tuffey (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Blayney (Linfield), J Evans (Man Utd), Craigan (Motherwell), Cathcart (Blackpool), McAuley (Ipswich), Hughes (Fulham), Baird (Fulham), McCann (Peterborough), Brunt (West Brom), Gorman (Wolves), C Evans (Man Utd), Davis (Rangers), Clingan (Coventry), Healy (Sunderland), Feeney (Oldham), Lafferty (Rangers), Paterson (Burnley), Patterson (Plymouth).
How Northern Ireland have failed to hit the target
It has been a long time since Kyle Lafferty’s goal against Poland — the last time Northern Ireland found the net.
Here is a reminder of just where we’ve failed to hit the target since the Rangers man’s effort in September 2009.
Northern Ireland 0 Slovakia 2
Czech Republic 0 Northern |Ireland 0
Northern Ireland 0 Serbia 1
Albania 1 Northern Ireland 0
Turkey 2 Northern Ireland 0
Chile 1 Northern Ireland 0
Montenegro 2 Northern |Ireland 0