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Neil Lennon slams ‘abysmal’ Northern Ireland collapse in Bulgaria and challenges players to take heat off manager Ian Baraclough

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Neil Lennon did not hold back on his criticism of Northern Ireland's second half performance in Bulgaria.

Neil Lennon did not hold back on his criticism of Northern Ireland's second half performance in Bulgaria.

Northern Ireland ace Paddy McNair holds his head in his hands after another missed chance in last night’s defeat to Bulgaria. Photo: Presseye/William Cherry

Northern Ireland ace Paddy McNair holds his head in his hands after another missed chance in last night’s defeat to Bulgaria. Photo: Presseye/William Cherry

©INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

Ian Baraclough felt his side weren't clinical enough

Ian Baraclough felt his side weren't clinical enough

William Cherry/Presseye

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Neil Lennon did not hold back on his criticism of Northern Ireland's second half performance in Bulgaria.

Former Northern Ireland midfielder Neil Lennon launched a stinging attack on the team after their World Cup hopes ended with a whimper in the disappointing 2-1 defeat to Bulgaria.

Ian Baraclough’s side were already hoping for a miracle after losing 2-0 in Switzerland, but in Sofia two stunning Todor Nedelev strikes saw the hosts come from behind to snatch victory after Conor Washington had given the visitors a half-time lead

Lennon slammed the players for allowing an average Bulgaria side to stage a second half revival.

"My emotion is one of anger,” raged the ex-Celtic boss in the Sky Sports studio.

"That was absolutely abysmal in the second half. Absolutely abysmal, and I'll tell you why; in the first half, Bulgaria looked like they were the worst team in the group by far.

"Northern Ireland could easily have been two or three up in the first half but then they come out in the second half with no urgency, totally passive. They invited Bulgaria onto them.

"Our game management in the second half was pathetic. I'll give you an example; with 15 minutes to go, we're 2-1 down, haven't really been in Bulgaria's half. We take a short one and lose it. The ball's 50 yards up the pitch and it kills any momentum they were trying to build. It seemed to me they lost their way completely. No leadership.

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"The gaps between the back three, the midfield and the front two were all over the place in the second half and we deserved to lose.”

Lennon, however, agreed with boss Baraclough, who pointed to his side’s loss of their individual battles after the break and their poor game management.

Instead, the Lurgan man challenged the players to take responsibility while the future of their manager hangs in the balance with his contract expiring at the end of the year.

"I liked that interview," Lennon said in response to Baraclough’s post-match thoughts. “I think he called it quite well. First half they were very good. As a manager, you want to create chances and Northern Ireland created three or four clear cut chances.

"And he was right about the 20 minutes after half-time, when they lost their individual battles. As a manager, that's something that's out of your control at times.

"You can feel the psychological shift in the game. I'm not going to criticise Ian but you smell it. You want your players to smell the danger. We were way too off it. We gave Bulgaria too much room, didn't get physical enough. We didn't do the dark arts well enough; maybe take a foul and slow the game down.

"We sat in and people started hiding I felt, not taking responsibility. In the first half, we were full of running and full of endeavour and 10 or 15 yards further up the pitch.

"When you get into that cycle, it's hard to change that momentum. What you do is you get the ball out for a throw in, walk up the pitch and say you're not letting them out. We lost the initiative completely.

"I feel for him (Baraclough) tonight because he'll be going through a wide range of emotions. One of satisfaction for the first half but he'll be bewildered by that second half. The players have to stand up as well, look at themselves and say that wasn't good enough.

"From a position of strength, we've lost that game without putting a glove on Bulgaria in the second half."

The big positives of Baraclough’s reign have been the emergence of young talents like Daniel Ballard, Ali McCann, Shayne Lavery and now Conor Bradley, who impressed on his first senior start.

But Lennon pointed out that those players will only progress with better results and performances than the team delivered after the break against what he described as a “third rate” Bulgarian side

"It's alright saying they've young players but the bottom line is you've got to win games,” he continued.

"You're not going to learn by playing like that and losing games. That is not good enough and it's totally unacceptable at international level for me.”

For co-pundit Chris Brunt, the question of Baraclough’s future isn’t an easy one to call.

"Michael O'Neill is the most successful manager we've had in recent times but had a rough start to his tenure as well,” he mused. 

"It's easy to say he hasn't won many games but it's difficult. We're a small nation, there are players leaving, older players getting to the wrong side of their career and he has to bring young players in. That's a positive for us going forward.

"For him and his staff, they'll want to get two positive results to show the fans at home that they can do the job and that it's his to move forward.

"It's a results based business and if you don't win games, people start to ask questions. It's a difficult one."


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