Belfast Telegraph

Sanchez slates Worthington, then offers to return as Northern Ireland manager

By Steven Beacom

Lawrie Sanchez today offered to ride back to the rescue of shamed Northern Ireland international football.

The former boss, who inspired a golden era, including famous wins over England and Spain, said the ‘writing is on the wall' for his successor Nigel Worthington after last night's disastrous 4-1 Euro qualifying defeat in Estonia.

Supporter pressure is mounting on Worthy after just two wins in 22 games, with last night’s error-ridden display the last straw for many.

Given the anger from the fans towards Worthington, it appears the best solution for all concerned will be for the Ballymena man to depart at the end of his £450,000 per year contract when the qualifying campaign draws to a close.

Sanchez, on £100,000 when he quit for Fulham at the peak of his reign in 2007, today declared himself willing to step back in.

“Nigel has had enough cracks at it. Everybody sees the writing is on the wall. He is not doing an exceptional job. It's not happening. It’s got worse rather than better,” said Sanchez, now at League Two Barnet.

Ironically Sanchez secured the first win of his successful reign, 1-0 in Estonia and he added: “Everybody realises it is time for a change. I have always said I would like to finish what I started. I would like the opportunity. I would like to return to Northern Ireland in the future.”

It would be a move sure to go down well with the fans who revered him, though less so with Irish FA chiefs who were not enamoured by his departure mid-contract.

Worthington today vowed to soldier on and take any flak that comes his way, admitting he expects to shoulder the brunt of the fans' disappointment.

“Criticism is part and parcel of the job and you live with that,” he said. “I'll take whatever needs to be taken before the players because they don't deserve it. They made genuine, honest mistakes and credit to Estonia, they took full advantage.

“I couldn't believe it but you can't do anything about it. The players are out there doing their best and they don't do it intentionally.”

Worthington could do nothing as a series of blunders at the back gifted his side's Group C rivals a handsome victory that effectively ended Northern Ireland's hopes of a Euro 2012 play-off place.

Gareth McAuley could have done better for Estonia's first goal and was entirely culpable in allowing Sergei Zenjov to stab home their third, while Lee Camp produced a woeful gaffe of his own in allowing Tarmo Kink's hopeful shot to slip through.

Northern Ireland had conceded just four goals in seven qualifying matches before last night's meltdown at Le Coq Arena, and Worthington was at a loss to explain his side's sudden defensive frailty.

“It's hugely disappointing because I thought overall we performed pretty well, but we've made more mistakes in our own box in this match than we have over the whole course of the group,” he said.

“It's one of those unfortunate things. Those who watch us regularly will know defence is one of our strengths.

“But you concede four and that blows everything out of the water in one game.

“We've paid very dear. I don't think I have felt more disappointed over the four and a half years I've been in the job.”

Remarkably, despite the embarrassing loss, Northern Ireland can still come second in Group C and earn a play-off place, but for that miracle to happen Serbia need to lose to Italy and Slovenia and Worthington's side must beat Estonia and Italy next month.

Estonia coach Tarmo Ruutli, who was applauded into the press conference by local journalists, has seen his side defeat Serbia and Slovenia away and was not shocked by a third win of the campaign.

“It wasn't much of a surprise. We have got some very good results away from home already and the crowd helps us a lot here,” he said.

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