Belfast Telegraph

Nigel Worthington heading for exit door

By Steven Beacom

That's that then. Over and out. Northern Ireland's European Championship qualifying dream is officially OVER and the manager Nigel Worthington will surely be OUT of a job.

There was controversy with Estonia's winning goal but let's not kid ourselves, the visitors deserved to win at Windsor Park last night.

Indeed we were fortunate the scoreline wasn't 4-1 just like it was in Tallinn last month.

That was an appalling error-strewn performance.

In many respects though last night's efforts were even more disappointing and depressing.

Remember Northern Ireland were at home in front of a large crowd. This was their chance to right the wrongs of Tallinn. After loyally backing him off the pitch all week, this was also an opportunity for players to shine for the underfire manager on it.

But bar a few notable exceptions, the players simply didn't perform. Again.

There was just no buzz about the team. They lacked creativity, organisation and drive.

There was also a deflated feel about the side and that was reflected in the stands. At times Windsor resembled a morgue. There was little atmosphere. Even when Northern Ireland scored the place wasn't bouncing like it can.

The 2-1 defeat leaves Northern Ireland in fifth place in Group C.

With the final match of the campaign in Italy on Tuesday without the injured Aaron Hughes and Jonny Evans and now the suspended Kyle Lafferty, who picked up a soft booking last night, that's where we are going to stay.

Only the Faroe Islands are below us. That says it all.

As IFA President Jim Shaw stated recently fifth place is not acceptable.

The Northern Ireland fans made their feelings clear at the final whistle with chants of "We want Nigel out".

Worthington applauded them. That couldn't have been easy given the abuse he has taken of late.

At least he has kept his dignity even if he won't keep his job.

The IFA can't offer him a new contract. Not on £450,000 per year or £45,000 come to that.

I said after the defeat in Estonia that a fresh start is required. Last night only confirmed that.

Michael O'Neill's out there. So too Jim Magilton. The IFA should even be thinking about giving Martin O'Neill a call. It's worth a try.

Maybe one of the above or someone else could get more out of the players than Nigel, because I do believe they are better than this.

I actually felt a bit sorry for the manager last night. He was an outstanding player for his country, has tried his best as boss but on his final evening representing Northern Ireland on his home patch he was jeered as he left the pitch.

There were also boos for German referee Manuel Grafe for allowing Estonia's stunning winning goal from Konstantin Vassiljev after ignoring a linesman's flag for offside. Replays showed he was correct to do so. No whistle had been blown, the Northern Ireland players stopped for a second and he who hesitates is lost.

Anyway you got the feeling even if that 84th long range strike had been ruled out, the visitors, now up to second in the group, would have scored in the time that was left.

The winner was coming for Estonia, just like the 76th minute equaliser when Vassiljev scored from the spot.

Northern Ireland took a first half lead through skipper Steve Davis, one of the few players to come out of last night with any credit. He showed desire and strength to take advantage of a goalkeeping error after fine work from Rangers team-mate Lafferty. That was a captain fantastic moment. If only others had stepped up like him.

Chris Brunt and Paddy McCourt, who have talent to burn, were virtually anonymous while defensively we were pulled all over the place. Oh, how we are going to miss the retired Aaron Hughes. He's gone. Soon the manager will follow.

And Northern Ireland will have to start again. Whoever takes over has a major job on his hands.

Belfast Telegraph


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