Belfast Telegraph

Baraclough aiming for morale-booster ahead of upcoming qualifier

Current U21 boss Ian Baraclough
Current U21 boss Ian Baraclough

By Steven Beacom

Ian Baraclough wants his Northern Ireland Under-21 players to deliver a morale-boosting performance at home to Hungary in tonight's friendly ahead of next week's crucial Euro 2021 qualifier against Romania.

Baraclough's boys have been enjoying their stay in Fermanagh ahead of this evening's clash with the Hungarians at Ferney Park (7pm). The manager wants to end it on a high before preparations intensify for Tuesday's competitive encounter at the Ballymena Showgrounds.

In the last Euro campaign, Baraclough's Under-21s produced some stunning results. This time around victories have been harder to come by, but despite Northern Ireland sitting fifth in their group four games in and seven points behind leaders Denmark, the former Motherwell boss is not giving up on qualification.

Remember, the runners up - currently Finland, who are five points ahead of Northern Ireland - make the play-offs.

Speaking from the team's base at the Killyhevlin Hotel just outside Enniskillen, Baraclough said: "We've enjoyed our time in Fermanagh. I wanted to bring games out this way and hopefully it goes well and we get good support for the game and a good performance.

"We are using this to build up to the Euro game against Romania, who will be tough opponents. They beat us earlier in the group when we were down to 10 men but it's not beyond us to reverse the result and get back into contention.

"We knew this was going be a tough group with Denmark and Romania having played in the Euro finals during the summer and still having players who were involved in that. Ukraine won the Under-20s World Cup this year and Finland are always well organised at youth level.

"Our boys are playing against players who are generally in first teams around Europe. Also, each team will probably have three or four outstanding players knocking on the door of their senior sides in their respective countries."

Bobby Burns, on loan at Newcastle Jets from Hearts, is back in the squad, as is Glentoran's Chris Gallagher, while Harry Robinson, son of Motherwell boss Stephen, is included for the first time along with Derry City goalkeeper Nathan Gartside and Wolves defender Jack Scott. Oldham youngster Robinson is currently on loan with Crusaders.

Manchester United starlet Ethan Galbraith and Leeds ace Alfie McCalmont, who have already won senior caps, could be key figures tonight in the first 'senior level' international staged in Fermanagh.

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