Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Worthington focused on making big finals point

Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington knows what is needed in order for him to have any chance of leading the country to next summer's Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland.

And he has a plan about how to go about getting it.

After picking up just a single point from three consecutive away games Northern Ireland are no longer in control of their own destiny.

It could be by the time the team heads to Gran Canaria for the final group game away to Spain, but, no matter what, anything less than a maximum six points from the home game against Denmark and then the Spanish adventure will see the once high hopes come to nothing.

First though come the Danes and a win is required to give the meeting with Spain any kind of meaning - as long as they don't pick up maximum points in their game with Sweden in Madrid.

A draw between the top two teams in the group - or a win for the Swedes - coupled with a Windsor win for the men in green would mean it is 'game-on' in Las Palmas, but first things first for the boss and for him that means more of the same after the 1-1 draw in Stockholm a couple of weeks ago.

"Yes, we need other results to go our way, but first and foremost let's go and do our own job," said Worthington yesterday.

"If we can go out and perform like the Sweden performance, with the high work rate, and we get a good result then we can look at the other results, but we have to look at ourselves first.

"I was very pleased with the result in Sweden and absolutely delighted with the performance because the players performed to a level that I am looking for.

"The next thing we are looking for is to go and give a repeat performance and if we can do that against Denmark I am sure a good result will come."

Ultimately just how valuable Kyle Lafferty's goal in Stockholm is will be decided over the course of the next two matches, but the immediate result is that it keeps Northern Ireland in the hunt for a first ever qualification for the European Championship finals.

While the Burnley man's contribution is measured in goals, the impact on the team of the returning Aaron Hughes and Stephen Craigan at the back is something that will have been judged personally by each individual who watched the game.

Captain Hughes was always going to come straight back in after injury, but Craigan's return wasn't such a cast-iron certainty.

Had Chris Baird not been suspended or Michael Duff's season not come to a premature end after suffering cruciate ligament damage, Motherwell defender Craigan may have spent another 90 minutes on the bench.

He was back in, though, and came away with a great deal of credit, with the manager patting him on the back too.

"I have no regrets about leaving Stephen Craigan out of the team against Latvia and Iceland," said Worthington.

"You have got to make decisions and you make them for the right reasons.

"In Sweden, everybody, to a man, had an outstanding game and the biggest thing I was delighted with was Stephen's response.

"He's a great pro, his attitude was spot on, he got back into the team and, together with the rest of the players, he gave an outstanding performance."

The closing double-header also sees Worthington's contract with the Irish FA come to a conclusion.

The future, however, is not something that is on the manager's agenda just yet.

"We have two games left and I am fully focused on them. I want the players to be focused on them because they are most important," he said.

"The agreement was that I would take it through until after the Spain game.

"My mind is very open at this stage about what I would like to do, about what I want to do, and that is the way it will remain until the end of the agreement and we'll go from there."

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