Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: Why Northern Ireland need Healy heroics

Thank goodness that’s over.

Friendlies, even those that Northern Ireland have won over the years, have always tended to leave me a little cold.

Nigel Worthington will say last night’s match in Montenegro was a necessity ahead of next month’s European Championship opener against Slovenia.

Why? Well, because it was an opportunity for him to try out the system he will use in Slovenia, it was a chance to work on set-pieces and it gave the players the opportunity to bond on and off the pitch.

I can’t argue with any of that but ultimately no points were at stake, so the result and ultimate defeat mattered little. In contrast the outcome against Slovenia will have a big bearing on Northern Ireland’s Euro 2012 ambitions.

They must start well in the tournament and avoid defeat. With a bit of adventure they could even go for the win against a side who are likely to be suffering from a World Cup hangover.

In the last qualifying campaign, Worthington’s men amassed the grand total of one point from their opening three games.

To their credit the lads fought back to be contenders, but playing the pressure game of catch up finally took its toll and the qualifiers ended the same way they began with disappointing results.

Given how poorly most of the teams played in the World Cup in South Africa, Northern Ireland really did miss the boat.

At their passionate, never-say-die best, roared on by the Green and White Army, Worthy’s side could have gone further than England!

That was then. We must look to the future now and the manager has a few decisions to make in terms of team selection for the trip to Slovenia.

Not least in attack. Last night Nigel opted to start Kyle Lafferty up front on his own with Martin Paterson supporting him whenever possible, leaving David Healy on the bench.

It’s obvious that Worthington intends operating the same 4-5-1 formation in Slovenia and, if the past is anything to go by, he will select a team as close as possible to that which lost in Montenegro.

It’s still hard to get used to seeing Healy on the bench.

He’s been the star man for over a decade so to see him playing a bit part role is strange.

Healy and the European Championships have history.

He scored a record-breaking 13 times in the last campaign and, although the goals have dried up since then, he only needs one to get him going again.

Obviously a move away from Sunderland and first team action elsewhere would help.

We need David to get back to his old form because otherwise I do worry where the goals will come from. Healy on fire would give us a real chance in the forthcoming Euro qualifiers.

Belfast Telegraph


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