Slovenia 2 Northern Ireland 0: Worthington keeps faith with goal-shy strikers
The Northern Ireland manager, Nigel Worthington, is banking on David Healy and Kyle Lafferty to get their team's World Cup campaign back on track. The province have failed to find the target in 270 minutes.
Healy scored a record 13 times in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign but was again left frustrated on Saturday, and a lack of appearances for Sunderland is clearly not helping him.
Lafferty, who missed the draw with the Czech Republic, put in a hard shift but should have scored in the second half when one-on-one with Samir Handanovic. Instead, the Rangers striker sent his effort into the goalkeeper's chest – and it proved a crucial moment in the match.
Slovenia went on to seal victory thanks to goals from the in-form Milivoje Novakovic and substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic in the 84th and 85th minutes.
The likes of Martin Paterson – seven goals in 13 games for Burnley – Warren Feeney and Peter Thompson are all eager to step into the province's attack. But Worthington had nothing but praise for the way Healy and Lafferty went about their business at the Ljudski VRT Stadium.
He said: "We created the better chances, and I thought David looked more like himself. He was sharp and lively. He had a little dink in the second half when the ball hit the top of the net. That is what he is about.
"As for Kyle, he was tremendous. He was powerful and quick throughout the game. He was a handful for the Slovenia back line. However, we do need to turn chances into goals if we are to get our campaign up and running. At the moment, we are playing catch-up in the group."
Northern Ireland now have back-to-back matches against the whipping boys San Marino, the first of which is at Windsor Park on Wednesday. The visitors are still looking for their first win in 18 years of competitive football.
Not surprisingly, they went down 3-1 to Slovakia yesterday. But Worthington is refusing to take anything for granted even though England, Spain and Sweden have been beaten in recent years in Belfast.
Goals: Novakovic (84) 1-0; Ljubijankic (85) 2-0.
Slovenia: Handanovic; Brecko, Komac, Suler, Cesar, Sisic, Koren, Novakovic, Dedic, Kirm, Ilic. Substitutes: Ljubijankic for Dedic, 68; Matic for Kirm, 90.
Northern Ireland: Taylor (Birmingham City); McAuley (Ipswich Town), McCartney (Sunderland), Evans (Manchester United), Baird (Fulham), Gillespie (Sheffield United), Davis (Rangers), Healy (Sunderland), Lafferty (Rangers), McCann (Scunthorpe Utd), Hughes (Fulham). Substitute: McGivern (Manchester City) for McCann, 73.
Referee: E I Gonzalez (Spain)
Booked: Slovenia Cesar, Sisic, Komac, Kirm. Northern Ireland Davis, Lafferty, Baird, McCartney, Evans.
Man of the match: Novakovic.