Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Faroe Islands: Only a win will do for Worthy’s boys

By Steven Beacom

It's four years ago this month since Nigel Worthington took charge of his first game as Northern Ireland manager. An early David Healy goal eased the nerves as a 3-1 win over Liechtenstein at Windsor Park was secured.

Worthington needs the same outcome in his 37th match as international boss, against a side similar in stature to the 2007 opponents.

Yes, only a win will do at home to the Faroe Islands in the European Championship qualifier. Almost goes without saying.

There's something else we could do with at Windsor tomorrow and that's a sense of togetherness.

That, along with too many games, has been lost recently.

Just think back to the Carling Nations Cup games in May when those involved with our national side appeared to be pulling in different directions. Fans, manager, players, Irish FA.

Result? A 5-0 hammering against the Republic and a 2-0 loss to Wales.

The Welsh defeat was disappointing, the Republic humiliation bordering on the disgraceful.

The pitiful performance from a patched up Northern Ireland side against an understrength Republic team was painful enough, but the scandalous shenanigans that surrounded it made the whole sorry experience even worse.

Some senior players didn't turn up for the derby and neither did Northern Ireland fans, who arranged a boycott after the Irish FA shamefully charged the supporters extra money in order to see the Carling games after making late changes to travel and ticketing arrangements.

The IFA may no longer be the circus it was a few years ago when Raymond Kennedy was president, but clearly some clowns still work at in Windsor Avenue, coming up with ludicrous decisions like that.

Just 210 Northern Ireland supporters travelled to Dublin for the Republic encounter compared to the 6,000 expected to go when the fixture was first announced.

By the time the fifth goal went in, most of the 210 were chanting “Nigel, Nigel time to go”, frustrated by losing so heavily and continuing a dreadful run of form that read one win in 18 games. It became one victory in 19 after the Wales reverse, incidentally watched by just 59 members of the Green and White Army, which for the trips south became a platoon.

If it becomes one in 20 tomorrow, Windsor Park will not be a welcoming place for the gaffer, with spectators on the Kop sure to hark back to the success of predecessor Lawrie Sanchez.

In contrast, the vast majority of the media feel Nigel, an engaging character, can do no wrong. Journalists, written and broadcast, have a much better relationship with the current boss than the last one (Lawrie's press conferences were so frosty they may as well have been held in the Antarctic).

I'm one of the few to have criticised Worthy, believing results haven't been up to scratch, team selection on occasion has been flawed and tactics, especially at home, could be more adventurous.

Some respected media colleagues have stated that Nigel should be awarded an extension to his contract. Not yet. He has much work to do in the coming months to earn that.

To Nigel's credit he has achieved one of the finest victories on the road in our recent history (a 1-0 win in Slovenia) brought lively youngsters, such as Corry Evans, on to the international scene and got players like Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty playing to their full potential at international level.

He's also been unlucky to be boss at a time when certain players born and coached here want to play for the Republic – James McClean, the latest on a growing list.

As an experienced football man though, an excellent defender in his day, one time Premiership manager and now international boss, Worthington knows it's results that count.

And the bottom line is that his, as international boss, must improve.

He needs support to achieve that, primarily from his players and also the fans.

That's where the togetherness comes in.

No matter how the supporters feel about Worthington's position or the IFA — another boycott for next year's home friendly with Norway is being discussed — tomorrow is the time for fans to get behind the boss and his team.

And in turn Nigel and the players need to deliver an impressive winning performance against the Faroes, not the lack-lustre effort that saw Brian Kerr's men grab a shock 1-1 draw earlier in the qualifiers.

We've five games left in the campaign and I feel, with the way other sides in the group bar Italy are slipping up, finishing as runners-up and gaining a play-off place is a distinct possibility.

Ten points out of the 15 remaining might do. Twelve points definitely would.

That means Windsor victories tomorrow, against Serbia next month and home and away wins over Estonia.

Tall order, but by sticking together, it can be achieved.

Belfast Telegraph

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