Belfast Telegraph

Estonia v Northern Ireland: Do or die... but Worthington in the business of staying alive

By Steven Beacom

It’s do or die now for Northern Ireland and last night ahead of what could be the defining game in his reign as boss, Nigel Worthington declared he's ready for the challenge.

Addressing the media in the team hotel, there wasn't a feeling that this was Worthy's last stand. More a case of a man backing his own ability.

He rejected claims that his tactics were negative.

He stated he wasn't feeling under pressure.

And he revealed that his team will be going all out for the win they need against Estonia tonight, insisting they can still qualify for Euro 2012.

If the 1-0 defeat to Serbia at Windsor Park on Friday night was a bitter disappointment, the Group C match in Tallinn provides the perfect opportunity to bounce back and keep Northern Ireland's European Championship dreams alive.

Worthington's men enter the fixture in fifth place, but they are only two points adrift of Serbia in second, which is where we want to be come the end of the qualifying campaign.

That would guarantee us a precious play-off place and would be a triumph for Worthington and his team.

Achieve that and there's no question that the former Norwich City boss would be offered an extension to his IFA contract. Even the fans who have criticised him for being too negative in this qualifying campaign would back that move.

Worthington himself believes his tactics have suited the resources he has to work with.

He states with all his players available, Northern Ireland can take on most teams, but too often he has to select understrength sides, missing key individuals.

He has a point there.

Against Serbia for instance, he was without the injured Kyle

Lafferty and Paddy McCourt and Sammy Clingan, who was ill.

Tonight, while he has Clingan back, he is missing the suspended Jonny and Corry Evans, which means entering a massive game stretched to the limits.

Knowing that Northern Ireland must win, Worthington stated in yesterday's press conference that his approach will be positive, adding that it always is.

“I'm not negative at all. I am a positive person. What I do with us is set out in a manner which will suit us. Our aim every time we play is to win the game, and that's what we'll be going for against Estonia,” said Worthington.

On the heat being turned up on him and question marks about him staying as boss, he added: “There’s no tension or pressure here. I’ve been doing this job for four and a half years and there's lots of good things that me and the association have worked on which will benefit us in the future. Hand on heart, I have enjoyed every minute.”

He'll enjoy the 90 tonight if his team deliver. First things first they must pass the ball better than they did against Serbia and finish chances when they come along.

Defensively Northern Ireland have been excellent in this campaign and Worthington expects that to continue even without Manchester United ace Evans.

The manager also feels that our chances of qualifying remain very much alive.

“Of course, we can still qualify. In our group there are four teams looking for the second place and we're one of them. It's all to play for.

“If we win against Estonia, we'll be in a good position with the games left in the group.”

Worthy and his team would be helped considerably tonight if Group C leaders Italy beat Slovenia and the Faroes, managed by Brian Kerr, stunned Serbia.

The former should happen. The latter won't which would see the Serbs and Northern Ireland, each then with two games left next month, battle it out for second spot and the play-off place.

Worthington will have Lee Camp in goal and is likely to opt for a back four of Chris Baird, Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart, though Ryan McGivern gives him another option at left back.

In midfield Niall McGinn will start on the right flank, hoping to be supplied by Clingan, Grant McCann and Steve Davis, who I fancy will produce a big performance following his uncharacteristic error that led to Serbia's winning goal on Friday night.

Chris Brunt should be deployed in a more attack minded role with David Healy, Warren Feeney and Josh McQuoid all in the running to play up front.

A Northern Ireland win is required, setting us up for a big finish next month at home to Estonia and away to Italy.

You never know, we might just get it.

Kick-off here is 9.30pm. 7.30pm BST

Probable teams: Estonia: Pareiko; Jaager, Piroja, Raln, Teniste; Vunk, Puri, Klavan, Vassiljev, Kruglov; Zenjov.

Northern Ireland: Camp, Baird, Hughes, McAuley, Cathcart, McGinn, Davis, Clingan, McCann; Brunt, Healy

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