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Former Northern Ireland internationals believe side passed up glorious chance to ignite World Cup campaign


Northern Ireland could not find their way past a resolute Bulgaria defence (Brian Lawless/PA)

Northern Ireland could not find their way past a resolute Bulgaria defence (Brian Lawless/PA)


Northern Ireland could not find their way past a resolute Bulgaria defence (Brian Lawless/PA)

Northern Ireland already look like they have a mountain to climb if they want to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after defeat to Italy and a home draw with Bulgaria.

Sunday Life Sport spoke to two former Northern Ireland internationals to get their thoughts on where Ian Baraclough's side go from here.

Warren Feeney, former striker

The pressure is now on Ian Baraclough to get his first Northern Ireland win during 90 minutes.

The players had a great opportunity of giving the manager the victory he craved in the game against Bulgaria at Windsor Park.

It must go down as a big chance lost because, for me, Bulgaria were there for the taking. That winless streak is now extended to 11 games, but I also recall that our former boss Michael O'Neill didn't make a great impression in his first dozen games.

Ian will believe he can turn it around - and I think he'll do that. There is always criticism in football but, as long as the players believe in what the manager is doing - and he believes in the players - fingers crossed, we can get ourselves out of this predicament.

I said before in the build-up to the match that it was a must-win game, especially with home advantage.

We are now in a difficult position, playing catch-up practically from the off.

I know Ian put a positive spin on his post-match analysis, stating we are capable of getting points on the road and winning the big home games.

The bottom line is that Italy and Switzerland are top teams, so it will take something special to salvage the situation.

It can be argued that we dominated the match against Bulgaria. When does possession ever win you games?

To win games of football, you must put the ball in the net. Yes, Bulgaria came to Windsor Park for the point - they were happy to concede possession.

And, in what would have been a bizarre finish, they could have left with all three points only for a wonder save by Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the last minute.

In last week's Sunday Life Sport, Dimitar Iliev was one of the players I mentioned that could be a threat to Northern Ireland. So, we could easily have lost that game late on.

The problem now is it will be September before Ian and the players have the chance to put things right. I know there are a few friendly fixtures lined up, but it's what happens in Lithuania and then at home to Switzerland that really counts.

It's not ideal. Ask any player or club manager, they want to get a game straight away after a negative result. You want to get back at it again and get points on the board.

I do believe if Windsor Park had been packed to the rafters with supporters, we would have won that game on Wednesday night. Everyone knows what that ground is like with the passionate fanbase.

Nevertheless, the players still had a job to do: be professional and put the ball in the back of the net. Unfortunately, they failed to do that.

It means it's uphill for the rest of the campaign.

Gerry Armstrong, former striker

What would Ian Baraclough give to have a David Healy in his team?

Once again, we failed miserably in front of goal against Bulgaria at Windsor Park in midweek. One point from a possible six in opening our World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign is hardly the ideal start.

But it could have been so different had we been more ruthless in front of goal.

There were parts of our performance in both games I liked, especially in the second half. We looked a little bit shell-shocked against the Italians in the opening 45 minutes, we gave them too much respect. But we really upped our game after the break. It was encouraging.

As a result of that, I thought we would have beaten Bulgaria. We dominated the match with 70% possession. When you boss games like that, you must make it count.

We had 13 or 14 shots at goal, but we hit the target only three times. Our finishing is poor. If you don't score goals, you'll not win games. We need to find a way - oh, for another David Healy.

I really don't know how Ian is going to solve the problem. We are playing good football and creating chances, but that's what makes it so frustrating. We are in a results-based business - you must have an end product.

We must find a way to put the ball in the net.

If we had taken three points against Bulgaria, it would have lifted us so much.

But it could have been worse. It took a world-class save from Bailey Peacock-Farrell right at the finish to earn us the point. The big Bulgarian Dimitar Iliev looked a certain scorer until the Burnley goalkeeper got a strong hand to his header.

He may have taken a bit of stick for his performance against Italy, but he really saved us from defeat.

It certainly wasn't the start we were all hoping for, but we are not out of it. We must believe we can pick up points elsewhere.

In saying that, there is nothing easy in international football. Some of the results in midweek were crazy.

Football has changed dramatically and I'm sure Ian will be trying everything he knows to rectify things in the summer friendly games against Turkey and Ukraine.

There is a lot of pressure resting on our next qualifiers away to Lithuania and then home to Switzerland in September - our qualifying destiny will be decided then.

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