Belfast Telegraph

Worthy warns Northern Ireland players over pitch complaints

Forthright Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington has challenged his players to show a mental toughness in tonight’s friendly with minnows Albania.

Heavy overnight rain in Tirana is threatening to postpone this encounter with the Qemal Stafa Stadium pitch saturated.

Northern Ireland were forced to train on a 4G pitch yesterday morning and the players have described the playing surface at Albania’s national stadium as poor.

But Worthington, whose squad has been decimated by injury and unavailability, will accept no excuses for an under-par performance against a side listed 57 places below Northern Ireland in the FIFA world rankings.

The former Norwich City chief believes Northern Ireland need to learn how to win in places such as Tirana if we are to have any chance of Euro 2012 qualification.

He wants to see the same fighting spirit which helped Northern Ireland shock Denmark 1-0 at a wet and windy Windsor Park three years ago when the Danish coach demanded the match called-off.

“I am not concerned about the pitch at all,” admits Worthington, who called up Corry Evans for tonight’s game in place of his injured brother Jonny.

“I have been through this situation on many occasions. It has never been a problem. I will not have it as an excuse for an inept performance or an indifferent performance. It is not the best pitch and, yes, there has been a lot of rain. It is very heavy in the middle.

“What it is going to show me is the mental strength of some of our players. That is what these trips are all about, dealing with these situations.

“I have told the players you are not going to be playing on Premiership pitches when you come abroad. That's a fact. So you have got to be adaptable and perform to get the result you want.

“In situations like this, murmurings that players are this, that and the other are just an excuse. They are getting an excuse prepared. If we don't perform, it was the pitch, it was the weather. Sorry I won't accept it.”

Goalkeeper Maik Taylor, who will captain Northern Ireland tonight for the 14th time, says: “We trained on the pitch on Monday night and it was very soft. There’s been more rain overnight so it’s going to be an extremely difficult surface to play on and we may have to change our tactics.”

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