Belfast Telegraph

Current squad won't repeat Northern Ireland's nightmare of 2011, claims Clingan

 

Long goodbye: NI’s last visit to Estonia in 2011 signalled the beginning of the end for Nigel Worthington’s stint as manager
Long goodbye: NI’s last visit to Estonia in 2011 signalled the beginning of the end for Nigel Worthington’s stint as manager

By Paul Ferguson

It's a measure of how shockingly poor Northern Ireland were the last time they played in Tallinn that former international Sammy Clingan has blanked the entire match from memory.

The Estonians, in September 2011, stunned Nigel Worthington's troops 4-1 at the A Le Coq Arena - the venue for Saturday's Euro 2020 qualifier.

That embarrassing result was the beginning of the end for boss Worthington.

He received a torrent of abuse from the fed-up travelling Green and White Army, and one month later, following a further 2-1 defeat by Estonia, the fans got their wish when Worthington announced on the eve of the final qualifier with Italy in Pescara that he would be falling on his sword and leaving his post.

"Honestly, it was a game to forget, and that's exactly what I've done," says Clingan.

"I know we made a few mistakes and they were clinical in punishing us - but that's it.

"I wasn't enjoying playing for Northern Ireland during that time. I'd fallen out of favour with Nigel Worthington and I missed his last game against Italy due to injury."

Clingan expects Northern Ireland to make amends for that defeat on Saturday.

The 35-year-old, having been capped 39 times by his country, knows from first hand experience how difficult it is to secure a positive result away in eastern Europe, but he believes Michael O'Neill's men now have the experience to deal with the situation.

"We always seemed to struggle when we went to places such as Estonia. There is so much difference between playing at home and away in international football.

"At Windsor you are used to your home comforts, while when you go away to the likes of eastern Europe you are usually taken out of your comfort zone.

"There is the long travel, the fact the training facilities might not be what you expect and the hostile and intimidating atmosphere in the stadium. But Michael's teams seem to have overcome those issues and recently we haven't been slipping up to those type of nations.

"It's going to be a difficult match, especially with the Estonians playing regularly for their clubs at the minute while some of our players haven't performed in a competitive game for over a month.

"But the boys know that if they want to really compete with Germany and Holland at the top of Group C, then they have to come away with a maximum of six points from this away double header. After all the players have gone through under Michael, in terms of valuable experience, I expect them to come through."

While Ollie Norwood, Niall McGinn and Will Grigg are missing through injury, O'Neill basically has a full strength squad to choose from, and Clingan is confident a player from one of his former clubs could have a huge impact on the game.

"I really think Jamal Lewis is our best prospect," says the former Canary about a current Norwich City star.

"He just so good to watch, using his pace and technique to be an excellent full back. He'll have a huge future for Northern Ireland."

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