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Northern Ireland face goalkeeping headache after new Leeds signing puts Bailey Peacock-Farrell under pressure

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland could face a goalkeeping headache due to Leeds United's signing of Real Madrid stopper Kiko Casilla.

The signing, announced on Thursday morning, leaves Bailey Peacock-Farrell with a huge fight on his hands to hold down his starting spot.

Casilla, 32, has played 140 La Liga games over the course of a career mainly spent at Espanyol, although he sealed a switch to the Bernabeu in 2015. He played 43 appearances for Los Blancos and the arrival of such an experienced player is a concern for Peacock-Farrell.

The current 22-year-old custodian has come under fire from some Leeds supporters despite keeping 10 clean sheets in 26 Championship starts this term.

In truth, his stint as number one may well have ended before now, but for a broken leg sustained by Jamal Blackman in November. The 25-year-old returned to parent club Chelsea after sustaining the blow during an Under 23 tie but boss Marcelo Bielsa later confirmed he had been poised to bring Blackman into the first team at the expense of Peacock-Farrell the following weekend.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has often spoken of the need for his international players to be earning regular minutes at club level and Leeds' latest move will no doubt be worry ahead of the UEFA European Championship qualifying campaign that begins in March.

In fact, should Peacock-Farrell, who started three of the recent UEFA Nations League ties, fail to hold his spot in the Leeds line-up, Conor Hazard could be the only one of Northern Ireland's four goalkeepers securing regular minutes for his club.

Motherwell stopper Trevor Carson, who started Northern Ireland's final UEFA Nations League game at home to Austria, is currently in the midst of an indefinite absence from the game with deep vein thrombosis.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 hero Michael McGovern hasn't played a league game for Norwich since April 2017 and played his last international in the World Cup play-offs against Switzerland in November of the same year.

That leaves Hazard, who is thankfully set for a spell of senior club action, having joined Partick Thistle on loan from Celtic. The 20 year-old has started both of his side's Scottish Championship games after arriving at the start of the month. He faces a gruelling second half of the season, with his new team bottom of the second tier but his international boss will at least be glad to see one of his stoppers in regular action.

Northern Ireland host Estonia in their first Euro 2020 qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21.

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