Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: Flat friendly leaves us with more questions than answers

International friendlies. Don’t you just love them?

Well, no.

Especially in August.

And just a couple of days before the start of the new Premier League season to boot.

True, they give managers an opportunity to try a few new things, and Nigel Worthington did that last night.

But for the paying public, they generally tend to be frustrating experiences.

Normally Windsor Park is buzzing when the Northern Ireland boys are in town.

The old place was as flat as I have seen and heard it for many a year. You can’t blame the fans for that though.

There was nothing, bar Grant McCann’s well taken free-kick, in the 1-1 draw with Israel to get excited about.

They’ll be up for it when it really counts — against Slovakia next month in Belfast, hopefully after three points have been secured by Worthington’s side in the vital World Cup qualifier in Poland.

To achieve that aim, Northern Ireland are going to have to play a lot better than they did against Israel.

Again they normally do when points are at stake.

Ahead of last night’s encounter, much of the pre-match talk centred around whether or not record goalscorer David Healy would start.

He did. But in keeping with the game itself, the King of Killyleagh was quiet.

He wasn’t alone. It was just that sort of game. I’m sure the debate around Healy will continue when the Poland match comes around, especially if he hasn’t played many minutes for Sunderland in between.

I would have him in my side.

Agreed he is having a barren run at present for his country, but in a big game scenario Healy remains the man most likely to score.

Martin Paterson, who came off the bench last night, is a lively performer and is sure to be a key player for Burnley in the top flight, but I’d continue with Healy in attack.

And in the absence of the injured Warren Feeney, I’d go with Kyle Lafferty alongside him. It’s going to be physical in Poland and Lafferty, who still has a lot to learn at this level, is capable of shaking things up.

Worthington should have bigger selection issues in his mind than the inclusion of Healy.

Obviously Maik Taylor will be in goal, but in defence and midfield, there are a few interesting dilemmas for the manager.

Grant McCann had another impressive outing last night scoring that fine free-kick.

He’s on a real run of goals now and on this form it would be tough to leave him out, but Damien Johnson, Sammy Clingan, Steve Davis and Chris Brunt will expect to play.

Five into four won’t go, unless Nigel opts for one up front. The fans, however, would hate that.

Remember the travelling Green and White Army chanting “4-4-2” in Worthington’s direction when he chose the 4-5-1 formation in the defeat against Slovakia which opened up the World Cup qualifying campaign.

At the back, Aaron Hughes and George McCartney are the only sure things.

I imagine Jonny Evans, who missed last night due to injury, will be selected as well, though that would break up the central defensive partnership of Stephen Craigan and Hughes, which has gelled so well in the last five years in crunch encounters.

With Chris Baird suspended for Poland, I would think the solid Gareth McAuley will be at right-back, though Evans is a possibility there too.

Typical friendly. It’s left us with more questions than answers. The good news is that the next three Northern Ireland games are qualifiers.

Roll on Poland.

Belfast Telegraph


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