Striker Conor Washington insists Northern Ireland must develop a ruthless streak as he targets a hat-trick of wins to finish the World Cup qualifying campaign, starting in Bulgaria tonight.
Saturday’s 2-0 defeat in Switzerland, when Jamal Lewis was controversially sent off, all but killed off Northern Ireland’s dreams of reaching next year’s finals in Qatar, but Charlton ace Washington believes there is still much to play for in the remaining Group C fixtures even though Ian Baraclough’s men are six points behind the Swiss in the battle for a play-off spot with just three games left.
The 29-year-old says Northern Ireland need to focus on landing a victorious treble by winning in Sofia and then seeing off Lithuania and Italy in Belfast next month in the hope that the Swiss fall apart.
Baraclough’s side have failed to score in four out of their five World Cup qualifiers with Washington allowing Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer to save with the score at 0-0 after he raced clear, illustrating a concerning issue throughout the series of fixtures.
“We need to start putting teams to the sword and it’s up to us as a group of players to work on that and create as many chances as possible and be a bit more ruthless when we get them,” said Washington, who has netted five times at international level since his debut in 2016.
“It would have been nice to stick the one against Switzerland in the back of the net. It probably changes the game but it is what it is. If you are getting chances at this level against that quality of opposition, it is always a positive.”
On that desire to take maximum points in the final group games, Washington stated: “Yes, definitely that’s target. The chances of qualifying are slim but we still have a chance and if Switzerland slip up, we need to make sure we capitalise on that.
“If that’s not the case then, as a group of players and staff, we still want to win every game that we go into. We are evolving as a team under the new manager and it’s been good so far but we need to start picking up results where we probably haven’t been in previous games when we have deserved to.
“There’s obviously the disappointment of not scoring every chance you get, but you deal with that. We all need to do more in terms of being a bit more ruthless.”
Washington added: “I really enjoy playing for Northern Ireland and I want to keep my shirt and keep doing what I’m doing and add a few more goals to my tally as well.”
Against Bulgaria at Windsor Park in March, Baraclough’s team were on top for long periods but lacked a cutting edge in a goalless draw. With Italy and Switzerland set to fight it out for top spot in Group C, tonight’s result will go a long way to determining who finishes third.
Bulgaria, on the same five points as Northern Ireland having played one match more, will be looking to bounce back from a surprise 3-1 weekend defeat in Lithuania.
Washington said: “We dominated the home game against Bulgaria and we know we should have won on the balance of things.
“It’s really important we stay patient and if they are going to sit behind the ball and be organised, we have to be patient and try to break them down.
“Bulgaria are a good side and they’ll be a really good test for us but we back ourselves to get the points.”