Belfast Telegraph

Time for our boys to show character

By Paul Ferguson in Reykjavik

In a fit of fury on saturday night nigel worthington raged that if it were possible there would be 11 changes to the side that faces iceland in a cold and blustery reykjavik tonight.

So disgusted was the Northern Ireland boss with his charges in the defeat to lowly Latvia that he thought long and hard about making sweeping changes.

That though is simply not possible with the lack of depth in our panel. Instead, Worthington is expected to make only three, bringing in Warren Feeney, Stephen Craigan and Chris Brunt to replace Kyle Lafferty, Michael Duff and Stuart Elliott.

Those changes, even though he has already decided on his team with his backroom staff, will not be made official until later today when the former international left back reveals his hand.

Wing wizard Keith Gillespie admits there is not a player in the team who performed on Saturday night in Riga who could feel aggrieved if he were left out - including himself.

There may have been a difference of opinion between the players and management after the game - some of it stinging - but Gillespie, a senior member of the squad, maintains the entire squad is totally behind their " gaffer".

The Sheffield United right wing star said: "There wasn't many of us who came out of the game against Latvia with flying colours so I don't think we could grumble if he made many changes.

"But it's up to us to show that we have the character to bounce back.

"It's was all constructive criticism between Nigel and ourselves. We are pulling in the same direction.

"He told us that we weren't good enough and we needed to improve. It's up to him to tell us when we aren't playing well and praise us when we are. So we'll take it on the chin, work together and we want the same out of this.

"We have got to be better than we were on Saturday night, having a game so soon after the defeat in Latvia gives us a chance to put things right."

Northern Ireland's away form in qualification for both the European Championships and World Cup have been abysmal.

Before the win in Liechtenstein in March, Northern Ireland hadn't secured an away European Championship win for 12 years.

Gillespie and his team-mates plan to never allow that statistic to recur again and the best possible way to avoid that is to gain all three points against a tough and formidable Iceland side.

Gillespie, who returned to training along with David Healy and Jonny Evans yesterday, after sitting out Monday's session with a bruised knee, added: " Our away form has been a little bit disappointing but the Denmark draw was a huge point for us.

"We were obviously expected to beat Liechtenstein but in Saturday's game against Latvia we didn't really start. They were really there for the taking as they didn't create many chances. In saying that neither did we.

"When you look at the way other results went that night a scoreless draw would have probably been a good result.

"It's up to us now to put that behind us and concentrate only on the match against Iceland."

Barcelona's Eidur Gudjohnsen, the star of the show in Belfast last September, has passed a fitness test but is not expected to start the game.

That is relief to the Northern Ireland defence who were run ragged by the former Chelsea star at Windsor Park. But Gillespie has warned that Iceland still have enough decent players, including Portsmouth's Hreidarsson, Ingimarsson from Reading and striker Thorvaldsson to cause his team-mates a great deal of trouble.

Gillepsie says: "Eidur is obviously their main player but Iceland showed on Saturday against Spain that they can play without him.

"There's always somebody who can come in and do a job, although he ran the show against us at Windsor Park so it's probably best he doesn't play."

Belfast Telegraph


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