Belfast Telegraph

Lead us to the promised land Nigel

Let's start Worthington's new era with a crucial victory

By Steven Beacom

So, here we go again.

The Lawrie Sanchez rollercoaster ride, which included many incredible highs, has finished.

And tonight a magical mystery tour with Nigel Worthington begins.

The hope is that it will take Northern Ireland all the way to Austria and Switzerland next year.

In Northern Ireland's last five European Championship qualifying games they have beaten Spain, Latvia and Sweden at Windsor Park and have defeated Liechtenstein away from home and drawn against Denmark in Copenhagen.

Thirteen points out of 15.

It's a big ask but 13 points from the 18 now available would definitely see Worthington's side qualify for Euro 2008.

They may not even need that many, depending on other results.

They do need a win tonight though.

Nothing else will do. Worthington knows it. So do the players and the fans.

It's true that since Northern Ireland beat Liechtenstein 4-1 in Vaduz in March, tonight's visitors to Windsor Park have certainly improved.

They have beaten Latvia, drew in Iceland and were unfortunate to lose 2-0 to Spain.

But even so, there will be no excuses for the home side tonight, who with victory will move into second place in the Group F table behind Sweden and ahead of Spain.

As with any Northern Ireland manager in the 21st century, Worthington will look to David Healy to score the goals.

Healy's record is remarkable - 29 goals in 56 internationals, nine in the current Euro campaign and incidentally he has scored for Sammy McIlroy and Sanchez in their debut games as Northern Ireland boss.

Nigel would love the boy from Killyleagh to deliver a hat-trick, although he has told the other players they must produce the goods in front of goal too.

Alongside Healy in attack will be Warren Feeney with Keith Gillespie, Sammy Clingan, Steve Davis and Chris Brunt in midfield out to provide the front two with opportunities.

At the back Michael Duff, captain Chris Baird, Stephen Craigan and the returning George McCartney are aiming to keep a clean sheet and if Liechtenstein get past them, they still have to get past Maik Taylor.

Then of course there is the 12th man. The Green and White Army.

Liechtenstein may not get the juices flowing like England, Spain or Sweden but Fulham ace Davis is hoping that the fans create the same sort of atmosphere against the minnows that has helped see off some of the world's top players.

"When the Northern Ireland fans get going at Windsor it really is something else," said Davis

"In the games against England, Spain and Sweden they played a huge part in our success and we will need them tonight.

"In those games we were underdogs and against Liechtenstein we will be favourites but that doesn't mean we can just turn up and win. We must have the right attitude and with our brilliant support behind us we can get the result we need."

Midfield maestro Davis should get his wish with the Sea of Green Foundation pulling out all the stops to ensure another party night at Windsor.

Sea of Green sponsors Vi-Sport are contributing 8000 cards to create a wall of colour as the teams enter the playing arena. Flybe have donated 2000 green foam hands while the Belfast Telegraph are providing behind the scenes support.

Expect to be celebrating another win. Kick-off is 7.45pm.

Belfast Telegraph


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