Ian Baraclough has told Northern Ireland's Under-21 players that he is continuing to keep a close eye on them ahead of tonight's 2021 European Championship qualifier against Ukraine at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
Baraclough started the campaign in charge of the U-21s before winning the race to succeed Michael O'Neill as the Northern Ireland senior boss.
While his attention has switched to his new role, he has not forgotten where he started with the Irish Football Association and is keen to see young players progress to the full international side.
Baraclough was happy when coach Andy Crosby was given the nod to take over the team in mid-campaign and, in his three matches to date, the team earned their first win in the group away to Malta and suffered narrow home defeats to runaway leaders Denmark and Finland. They finish the series with two matches against Ukraine, with the corresponding fixture away next month.
In fifth place at present, back to back victories could see Northern Ireland jump into third in the qualifying group and, while Baraclough likes to see positive results from the youngsters, he also wants them to learn, develop and make strides towards the senior set-up and feels Crosby can help them do that.
"I'm in contact with the Under-21 set-up all the time, that's part of my responsibility," stated Baraclough.
"I knew Andy would be a safe pair of hands to look after the rest of the campaign. He knows the lads and we're talking all the time about bringing players into the 21s as well. Although I'm trying to focus on my job as senior manager, I have one eye on the future as well. Andy and his group of staff have done very well, with the performances that have been put in and the lads that have come up and I'm sure that will continue for the rest of the campaign."
Crosby will be hoping to have David Parkhouse available tonight after the striker sat out Friday's 3-2 defeat to Finland with a niggle, while fellow forward Shayne Lavery has already withdrawn from the squad. That put the onus on the shoulders of Paul O'Neill last week and the Glentoran man responded with a brace, though it was not enough as Finland came from behind to take the win.
There is also an injury doubt over Manchester United youngster Ethan Galbraith, while Brighton's Ben Wilson - who has been linked with a switch to the Republic of Ireland - remains out of the squad.