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Northern Ireland's DNA is their defiant national attitude, claims manager Baraclough

 

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Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough was proud of his players' never say die attitude in Romania

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough was proud of his players' never say die attitude in Romania

AP

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough was proud of his players' never say die attitude in Romania

New international chief Ian Baraclough believes fighting spirit is in the Northern Ireland DNA.

In his debut match in Bucharest on Friday night, Baraclough watched his players, without star man Jonny Evans, dig deep against Romania and battle to the end, despite being down to 10 men, to earn their first ever Nations League point.

The manager was forced to select a player at centre-back who wasn't even in his initial squad for the game and had been earmarked for the Under-21s, yet Arsenal's Daniel Ballard gave a composed performance alongside Craig Cathcart, while Gavin Whyte, who has hardly featured for his club in recent times, came off the bench to head home the equalising goal.

After Josh Magennis had been harshly sent off for two bookable offences, Northern Ireland were always going to be under the cosh and they required their goalkeeper, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, to make at least four outstanding saves to keep the men in green in the game.

After flying back to Belfast in the early hours of yesterday morning ahead of tomorrow night's match with Norway, Baraclough had time to reflect on the performance and believes it was a valiant display.

"Of course the players' legs were tired yesterday but that's because it was a great achievement on Friday night," says Baraclough.

"The lads only had two weeks of pre-season, down to 10 men on 39 minutes and they could have thrown the towel in with so much time left in the game.

"They could have saved their legs, but that's not the style, the way these guys have been made and brought up.

"There is a fire and hunger and if there is a chance of getting back in the game, they wouldn't give it up. We got it right at the right time with what I call Northern Ireland DNA."

While Romania dominated proceedings for large spells, Baraclough was never overly worried. He'd been in exactly the same position before at the start of a managerial stint - down to 10 men and losing 1-0.

"You draw on experience in those situations," he admits.

"I remember my first game as manager of Sligo Rovers. We went to Shelbourne, we got a man sent off in the first half, we were 1-0 down going in at the interval and ended up drawing the game 1-1.

"One of my old Sligo players texted me after the game on Friday night and reminded me about that.

"It's experience like that that you draw upon. You try not to panic, calm the players down, try and talk through one or two things, tweak one or two things and be patient with it. I felt we would always get a chance. We could have played better in the first half but I felt those chances would come along and they did."

After touching down in Belfast yesterday, Baraclough has immediately turned his attention to winning his first home match.

The Norwegians have history of being uncomfortable visitors for new Northern Ireland managers - Lawrie Sanchez and Michael O'Neill were both hammered in their opening games by Norway.

The return of Evans is crucial, especially as Norway will arrive with Borussia Dortmund's lethal predator Erling Haaland leading their attack.

"The game is important to us, we want to get off to a winning start at home which would give us four points from two games in the Nations League," adds Baraclough.

"That would be a fantastic start. But we also need to be careful with the players because, for many of them, that was their first competitive game of the season and we have a big game against Bosnia coming up in October.

"We have to be mindful of that and keep right by the players. We are not looking after the clubs, but we are looking to the bigger picture.

"There are sore legs in the camp so a decision on the team will probably not be made until Monday morning.

"We'll see how they train as a group today.

"We have things in our minds about how we would like to go and play.

"It can't be the same XI as Josh is suspended.

"The players who were not involved on Friday night trained very well yesterday.

"There was a real life about them, the players were itching to start a game so we have plenty to ponder over the next 24 hours."

Belfast Telegraph