Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Slovenia: Cathcart can be key figure at Windsor

By Steven Beacom

Craig Cathcart will make his first appearance for Northern Ireland at Windsor Park tonight.

It won’t be the last.

The gifted Cathcart, like his former team-mate at Manchester United, Jonny Evans, is destined for a long international career.

Eventually they will pair up together in central defence for Northern Ireland, though for now they must do whatever is required for the team.

Last Friday against Serbia for instance Old Trafford star Evans played at left-back while Blackpool ace Cathcart was at right-back.

It was Cathcart’s second cap — first time around he played as the left full-back and looked as comfortable there as Roberto Carlos, foraging forward and beating a few opponents before delivering an inviting cross for Corry Evans, Jonny’s brother, to score the only goal of the game.

That was against Slovenia in Maribor at the start of the European Championship qualifying campaign.

Tonight Slovenia’s players are at Windsor seeking revenge and will no doubt be informed by their manager to keep an eye on Cathcart raiding down the right flank.

With defending the prority for the 22-year-old, he didn’t get the chance to do much attacking in Belgrade against Serbia in a match which for the first hour was going perfectly to plan.

Then Nigel Worthington’s side, having worked so hard to go in front, faded allowing the Serbs to take control and win 2-1.

That result means tonight’s game has “must win” written all over it for Northern Ireland to feel they have a realistic chance of being in the running to qualify for the Euro finals next year.

Cathcart is relishing the prospect of playing at Windsor.

It’s another big occasion for him in a season full of them.

Apart from making his Northern Ireland debut he has played week in week out in Blackpool’s stunning Premier League campaign — and has excelled against the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs.

In the middle of all that he won the George Best Breakthrough prize at the Belfast Telegraph Sports awards in January.

He’s achieved a lot since August, but there’s more to do, like helping keep Blackpool in the top flight and playing a part in an important home victory tonight. Like in Maribor, Cathcart will be a key player against the Slovenians.

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