Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Northern Ireland v Montenegro: Friendly affair with a lot at stake

There are friendly matches that carry little meaning this, however, isn’t one of them.

International managers always learn from these games and it’s approaching crunch time for Nigel Worthington and his squad.

Who wants to play in Slovenia next month and who is good enough to play?

Assuming all players are fit on September 3 for the game in Maribor when Northern Ireland begin their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, Worthington says he already knows his preferred starting side.

But things can change quickly in football in the shape of an injury in training or a new lease of life following a change of club.

The sooner David Healy gets his club career sorted out then a nation’s mood will be lifted. Until that point, it’s difficult to see who can be the talisman Northern Ireland desperately needs.

Worthington has exciting young talent at his disposal, but it’s a steep learning curve at international level and it would be grossly unfair to expect too much from those players too soon.

But fans don’t tend to look into the future. They want what Northern Ireland have not been giving them which is results and good away performances.

Who will nick a goal when that one half-chance comes our way? Who’s going to provide the creativity and dead-ball magic?

And the most important question of all — and it is a painful one to ask — is whether or not these Northern Ireland players are fit for the job.

They couldn’t cope with the double headers in the World Cup qualifiers because their match fitness was lacking.

The spirit was strong but the body was weak.

If it serves no other purpose, tonight’s friendly in Montenegro will boost the players’ fitness levels, particularly those not in regular action at club level.

Sadly, Worthington knows that Northern Ireland’s future is as much in the hands of club managers as his own.

Northern Ireland probable team: Taylor, Little, J Evans, Craigan, McGivern, Baird, M Paterson, Clingan, Davis, Brunt, Lafferty. Subs: Blayney, Tuffey, McCann, Gorman, C Evans, Norwood, Healy, Feeney, R Patterson.

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