The importance of Northern Ireland's first senior international against the United States of America was summed up by the team sheet. Steven Davis and Jonny Evans weren't on it; not even listed amongst the 12 substitutes.
an Baraclough’s captain and vice-captain were wrapped up in cotton wool as the visitors won 2-1 in a friendly that was largely uneventful bar a stunning late strike from Niall McGinn.
Davis and Evans were rested so they could conserve every drop of energy for the match that really matters at Windsor Park this week – that crunch clash with Bulgaria in the World Cup.
Baraclough is going to need the pair of them playing at the high levels they are capable of on Wednesday night so the call was right by the manager even if late appearances off the bench, David Beckham-style in the final days of his England career, would have taken the Rangers hero out on his own as the most capped British footballer of all time and moved the Leicester City defender closer to a deserved century for his country.
Other key players such as Stuart Dallas, Craig Cathcart and Josh Magennis were listed as subs but also had the night off when mostly second string players were given the nod.
Out of those who did see action against the States there were some steady displays but no one grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and screamed: ‘You can’t leave me out against Bulgaria, Bara’.
Linfield’s Shayne Lavery was the liveliest and most likely to make a breakthrough for Northern Ireland in the opening hour with his replacement Dion Charles, the Acrrington Stanley forward, taking up that mantle in the latter stages as he became a fully fledged international.
There is a rawness and directness about Charles that few modern footballers coached to within an inch of their lives at Academies possess and if developed correctly could become a favourite with the Green and White Army in years to come.
As for Lavery it will be a surprise if he is still in the Irish League next season. Already having a wonderful season with David Healy’s team he has shown up well over the past four days in international football against Italy and USA.
Had Kyle Lafferty scored early on with a glorious opportunity perhaps Northern Ireland wouldn’t be staring at a worryingly poor record of seven games without victory at Windsor.
With Baraclough’s team in the ascendancy at the time Lafferty streaked clear from a fine George Saville pass 16 minutes in, looking sure to score the goal he craved. It was in November 2016 that he last hit the net for his country. That was his 20th international strike. This would be 21 today.
With the type of opening he would have dreamed about as he proudly led the team out as national team skipper for the first time, maybe he had too much time to think about it.
The headline was there ready to be written: ‘Captain America’ but there was to be no heroic ending with the Fermanagh man dragging his shot wide with only USA goalkeeper Zack Steffen to beat.
The Yanks were in front not long after on 30 minutes. It was a fortunate goal but the latest in a growing line under Baraclough that should have been avoided.
Giovanni Reyna faced up to Conor McLaughlin on the edge of the box and found space too easily and when his right foot drive deflected off Ciaron Brown and looped over Conor Hazard into the net it was so disappointing.
Another game without a clean sheet. The last one remains the scoreless draw against Netherlands at the end of 2019 when Michael O’Neill was in charge.
For Reyna, son of former Rangers and Manchester City midfielder Claudio, It was a moment to treasure. He can now swap stories with his Borussia Dortmund team-mate and Norway superstar Erling Haaland about what it’s like to score at Windsor.
Goal number two arrived on 60 minutes with Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic slotting in a penalty after being taken down by Daniel Ballard, who previously had coped well in the three-man back line alongside McLaughlin and Brown.
McGinn’s showstopper on 88 was breathtaking. Lafferty did the spade work and the Aberdeen winger delivered a spectacular strike. It was one to savour even if, sadly, there were no fans in the ground to cheer it.
But like the second half flurry when Northern Ireland lost 2-0 to Italy in the World Cup last week, it was all too little too late.
The good news is that in this defeat no points were at stake. There will be against Bulgaria. That’s the one win Baraclough’s side need to win. Victory is a must.