Belfast Telegraph

Taylor will keep young guns on the right track

By Paul Ferguson

Stand-in captain Maik Taylor will be loud and proud in Tirana’s Quemal Stafa stadium tonight.

Northern Ireland may be down to the bare bones after Carling Cup final knee victim Jonny Evans became the fifth player to withdraw from Nigel Worthington’s initial squad for this evening’s game against Albania.

But 38-year-old Taylor is convinced Northern Ireland, even with a depleted panel that now includes Evans’ brother Corry, who flew in from Riccioni after playing for the Under 21’s last night against San Marino, can still improve his record as captain of his country.

The veteran Birmingham City goalkeeper, capped 82 times, has worn the armband on 13 occasions since making his debut against Germany in 1999 — winning four and drawing four.

He will stand behind a makeshift back four which includes 20 year-old's Andy Little and Ryan McGivern along with experienced Stephen Craigan and George McCartney.

Taylor has promised to keep his defenders alert, especially the young guns, by making himself heard throughout the entire 90 minutes.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be captain again. It’s going to be a proud moment,” concedes Taylor, who has only started two games for Birmingham this season due to the impressive form of England new boy Joe Hart.

“I think I’ve done it 13 times before and actually have a decent record — although a lot of those results came on the Caribbean tour. I expect it to be a busy night for me and that’s got nothing to do with the fact we have a much-changed back four.

“It’s because I’ve been looking at Albania’s results recently and they have fared very well.

“I’ll be very vocal but I usually am during a game because it helps my concentration.

“This game gives the two youngsters a chance although Ryan has played quite a bit at left back already for us. Andy will come in and right back will not be unfamiliar to him as he has played there for Rangers.

“I know when he’s been with us before he’s been selected as a striker but I’m hoping he’ll be able to enjoy the experience as a defender this time.”

Versatile Little is thrilled to be moving back to take a step forward in his international career.

Only a few weeks ago the Fermanagh born starlet, who has played as a forward for both Rangers and Northern Ireland, wasn’t even sure if he was going to be in Worthington’s squad, never mind start the friendly against Albania and win his third cap.

“I didn’t know whether I’d be in the Under 21’s or senior panel this week,” says Little, who was on the Rangers bench during their dramatic Old Firm victory over Celtic on Sunday.

“So I was delighted to be informed as I was on the plane to Albania and in Nigel’s thoughts.

“Over the last couple of years I’ve played as a striker and also a defender in games for Rangers but I would honestly play in any position for my country.”

Boss Worthington is unconcerned about throwing inexperienced Little into the deep end at right back against a determined Albanian side and insists places are available for the Euro 2012 qualifying games which start in September.

Worthington says: “I’m looking forward to seeing Andy play because the right back situation has never been nailed down. Gareth McAuley has played there and done a steady job for us. Chris Baird has played there and done okay.

“I have a lot of time for Andy, I just love his attitude.”

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