Belfast Telegraph

Serbia v Northern Ireland: Nigel’s tunnel vision

By Steven Beacom

Nigel Worthington put Northern Ireland’s 2-1 defeat in Belgrade last night down to a series of factors — not least Serbia upping the tempo of the game in the second-half.

Northern Ireland surrendered a 1-0 half-time lead in the European championship qualifier, which was given to them by Gareth McAuley five minutes before the break, as Worthington’s men caused problems for the home defence.

Second-half goals from Marko Pantelic and Zoran Tosic gave the Serbs victory in the virtually empty Red Star Stadium to leave Northern Ireland fourth in Group C with qualification hopes very much in the balance.

“The players were fantastic — we looked controlled, assured, composed and passed the ball well in the first 45 minutes so were delighted at half-time,” said Worthington.

“In the first-half the football we played was absolutely exceptional. The players did the job very well and they got the all-important goal, but you know that at half-time Serbia are going to try and change something. They have very good players and you have to give credit to them.

“Serbia changed their formation and threw the kitchen sink at us. They went to a 4-2-4 and pushed players forward — some legs started to go and we had injuries, but I can't fault our effort, quality and commitment.

“I thought my players were fantastic. I thought the performance was excellent.

“The players deserve all the credit — everyone gave everything they had.”

Worthington handed teenage winger Jonny Gorman his first competitive start and while it was a huge step up for the youngster, who is still studying for his A Levels and has yet to get anywhere near a first-team appearance for Wolves, the manger was pleased with his display.

“Some people questioned my decision to play Jonny Gorman but he more than held his own for most of the match.,” said Worthington.

“We knew we had to start in a solid manner and build from there but don't underestimate how good Serbia are — they have quality players and showed that in this game.

“Picking the players up for the game against Slovenia on Tuesday shouldn't be a problem but we must get people fit and assess where we are at — it will be a battle again.”

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