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David Healy: Make plans for Nigel to stay as manager

Nigel Worthington is the man to lead Northern Ireland to the European Championships and beyond.

Our manager took a bit of flak after the defeats to Latvia and Iceland last month but I don't think anyone will dare have a pop at him now.

When he took the Northern Ireland job he was probably on a hiding to nothing because the team was flying and if it all went wrong he would be the man who was blamed.

Some people did blame him after those two games but the players to a man knew they'd let him and themselves down.

All he can do is pick a team he feels is good enough to win any given game and that's what he did last month, but there comes a time when the players have to look at themselves and we held our hands up to him.

It is so easy to say we'd be better off in the group or that we might even be top if Lawrie Sanchez had have stayed but Nigel took the challenge and he's doing a great job.

I've worked with him before and we know each other's strengths and I would like to see him remain in charge of Northern Ireland when his six-game contract comes to an end after the Spain game.

Obviously that will be up to him and the Irish FA to get their heads together but Nigel gets my vote.

As for the match, I've had a day to reflect on our draw in Sweden and I'm still bitterly disappointed.

Not with the performance by any means but the result.

We battered them in some stages and I really believe we should have won.

It's a great feeling being able to say that after going to a country like Sweden. Their record is fantastic at home, but we outplayed them.

I couldn't believe it when I heard we'd only won two qualifying games in the past 11 years but, with that in mind, I'm even more annoyed that we didn't get another goal in Stockholm.

It's not often we go away from home and are the better side, pushing for a win and against one of the strongest nations in European football, but that's exactly what we did.

We passed the ball better than them, we moved it better than them and we looked the stronger and fitter team as the game wore on.

In recent years we've had victories against England, Spain and Sweden but I would say that Wednesday night's draw was one of the best all-round performances by Northern Ireland since I've played international football.

You could hear the Swedish fans getting edgy in the second half and they tried to take the sting out of our attack but we kept going.

When our goal came, what a goal it was.

I could not be happier for Kyle Lafferty. It was a wonderful strike and a goal worthy of winning such a big game.

People forget how young Kyle is but he is doing a great job for Northern Ireland. He was left out of the team for Warren Feeney to play in Iceland but he didn't sulk.

He kept about his business and came back in on Wednesday and got his reward and he will be a big miss through suspension in the Denmark game.

Kyle was awarded the man of the match but you could have given it to anyone on our side.

But we know we'll have to do it all over again next month to keep the dream alive going into the last game in Spain.

Denmark will be looking to finish on a high but there is always something special about a night atmosphere at Windsor Park and the Green and White Army will roar us on.

Even after the doom and gloom of last month we know we can still get to Euro 2008.

The dream is still alive - now it's up to us to realise it.

Old firm won't have it all their own way

With the internationals out of the way for another month it's back to league action this weekend.

And the one I'm sure a lot of fans in Northern Ireland will be looking forward to is the first Old Firm derby of the season on Saturday.

As always, I'm sure it will be frantic and packed with incident and excitement.

People always say the first Old Firm game sets the pattern for the season, but this year might be a little bit different.

The other teams in the SPL seem to have closed the gap and they have both dropped points in the league so far.

Normally by this stage of the season, Rangers and Celtic are already pulling away from the pack but I think they'll have a fight on their hands this time.

The reason is maybe to do with their excursion in the Champions League.

They have both pulled off some incredible shocks in their respective groups and may have been slightly side-tracked by their European exploits when they return to the league.

But that will count for nothing when they run out at Ibrox on Saturday.

Rangers have been steadily improving under Walter Smith and they will only have to look back at their victory at Parkhead towards the end of last season for confidence, I'm sure.

Walter has brought in a lot of new faces and it seems to be doing the trick, but there's no way Celtic will make life easy for them.

I predict another tense game and I can't chose between them.

I'm going to have to sit on the fence here and go for a highly entertaining 1-1 draw.

And that will suit the teams like Hibs, at the top of the league, perfectly as they try to open a gap on the their biggest rivals.

Pressure building on Steve and Stan

I've said in this column before that England usually huff and puff their way through qualifying campaigns but normally do just enough to make it to the finals.

Well, this time I think it could be tricky for them.

Wednesday night's defeat to Russia was a massive blow to their hopes of qualifying and now they'll have to rely on other results to make sure they make it to Austria and Switzerland next summer.

We are in a similar situation to an extent but for a country like England that is not a good position to be in.

The pressure will be immense on the team and, of course, Steve McClaren.

But the worst thing for England is that other countries - for whatever reason - will want to be the ones who make sure England don't make it.

From a British Isles point of view, I would be disappointed if England didn't get there. As a football fan I want all the home nations at the major tournaments.

It's also been a difficult time for the Republic of Ireland and their boss Steve Staunton

A lot of people are calling for his head at the moment, which is never good to see, but they should be doing better than they have been. They've got the players but, for whatever reason. the team just isn't gelling.

What a disappointing result for Scotland after they beat Ukraine last weekend.

Everyone was on a high going to Georgia but the Scots have been superb in their group and if you'd told them they'd have a game against Italy to qualify at the start of the campaign they'd surely have taken it.

That's a match I'd love to be watching but hopefully I'll be helping Northern Ireland on their way on the same day.

And as for Wales, I see John Toshack was questioning his future and that can't be good for anyone.

Belfast Telegraph


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