Belfast Telegraph

Serbia v Northern Ireland: A bold move in Belgrade ... but will it backfire?

By Steven Beacom

Only when the final whistle blows will we know if Nigel Worthington's shock team selection for tonight's match with Serbia was inspired or insane.

What is certain is that he has played hardball with those who he felt let him down against the Faroe Islands in the last European Championship qualifier and more so in the embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Scotland in the Carling Nations Cup last month.

From Dublin, out of the starting line-up have gone Stephen Craigan, Grant McCann, Niall McGinn, Paddy McCourt and Johnny Tuffey.

While the exclusion of McCourt and Tuffey was expected, few would have seen the axe falling on McCann and McGinn while the absence of Craigan is the biggest stunner of all.

Remember the last time Craigan was dropped by Worthington? Back in 2007 when Northern Ireland lost to Latvia and Iceland, ruining hopes of qualifying for the Euro 2008 finals. Let's hope history does not repeat itself.

On the omission of 34-year-old Craigan, Worthington said: “I had my mind made up before Dublin. The time is right for a change. Now we'll have a bit more pace at the back.”

Craigan can count himself unlucky, with from right to left at the back, Craig Cathcart, Gareth McAuley, Aaron Hughes and Jonny Evans chosen ahead of him.

On McGinn's absence, Worthington said: “This game with Serbia will be all about strength and Niall doesn't give you that . He has good ability and quick feet, but we need something different this time.” On a general note about the Scotland game, the boss, in bullish mood, stated: “In Dublin I thought we lost our discipline and team shape which did not please me and I had to put my mark on that. This is not a case of me flexing my muscles, but the buck stops with me,” adding that he wasn't bothered by how the players felt about his choices.

He is bothered, though, about what he wants tonight from his team, which includes youngsters Corry Evans (20) and Johnny Gorman (18) in the wide midfield areas.

“I want what I would call a Nigel Worthington team type performance, with my team working hard and fighting for 90 minutes,” he added. “We'll have big strong players in defence and the youthful energy that we will need in midfield.

“Corry Evans has been playing well on loan at Hull and Gorman is a great lad, who works hard and is very strong. I spoke to Mick McCarthy, his manager at Wolves, and he agrees the lad has got something and we must nurture it.”

There will be no home fans in the stadium bar friends and family of the Serbia players while 265 Northern Ireland supporters have made the trip. Worthington added: “Serbia are a big strong side, with very good individuals. For us to get a result we need a good solid disciplined performance. Anything less won't do.”

Kick-off, your time, is 7.30pm.

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