Durham ace believes adaptability will be key to NI’s prospects
Having given Austria a real scare once already, Sarah McFadden believes that Northern Ireland can surprise their 2023 World Cup rivals again thanks to an adaptability that means they have more than one trick up their sleeves.
Friday night’s clash in Neustadt has taken on massive importance thanks to Kenny Shiels’ team pushing the Austrians all they way at Seaview back in October, when the visitors needed an injury-time equaliser to rescue a point from a 2-2 draw.
The set-up of the team that night was very different to the system used against England just a few days before; Covid-19 regulations meant four players weren’t available and Simone Magill was only used in the final minutes as she made her way back from injury.
Now, with only Ashley Hutton still on the injury list, Shiels has the type of selection headache that managers dream of, with at least 15 of his outfield players being very much in the mix to start the game.
It isn’t, however, just those who are left on the bench that can potentially change the game if needed.
There is a fluidity within the structure of the team and with certain individuals already showing their versatility during this campaign, the ability to make a switch with those already on the pitch can keep Austria guessing.
The Austrians used the same Marbella base as Northern Ireland for a training camp and friendly matches last month, but even analysing those games — particularly the 2-2 draw against Switzerland and 1-0 defeat to Romania — won’t give them too many clues as to how Shiels will structure his team.
And that is a major positive as far as the hugely experienced McFadden is concerned, with previous lessons also to look back on as Northern Ireland chase a victory that would put them clear in second place in Group D.
“Romania played a really good block against us and we couldn’t get through the thirds as easily as what we did against Switzerland, we just need to figure out a way to break teams down a bit better,” said the Durham star, who has over 80 caps to her name.
“Although when we play Austria and England we probably won’t have as much possession as we did in those two games, we will be under pressure when we do have the ball and I think it’s just us being better on it.
“Last year we went to play England at St George’s and got hammered. If we hadn’t played that game, we probably would have played the same formation against Ukraine in the first leg of the Euro play-off and got beaten.
“It’s all about learning and knowing what works and what doesn’t work. Sometimes three at the back does work, sometimes it doesn’t. We need to be able to adapt quickly and I think we have the players now who can do that.
“We can move from a three to a four, we can move from a midfield diamond to two sitting in front and I think from those games in Spain, it worked really well in terms of being able to adapt.
“It’s good to do that. Even about a year ago, we couldn’t have done that whereas now we can play so many different ways, we are trained in that way, we know the patterns of play, we know how to defend in them.
“It only helps us because it’s harder for teams to find us out then.”