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Gerry Armstrong

Young stars have been a breath of fresh air and a cause for optimism amid run of poor results

Gerry Armstrong


Ethan Galbraith

Ethan Galbraith

Ethan Galbraith

Room for improvement would be Northern Ireland's end-of-term report after what was a hugely disappointing final week of international football.

Not only did we miss out on a place in the European Championships, but we are still looking for our first win in the Nations League.

Yes, there were some great moments. In fact, there were a lot of positives to take from our latest three performances. To be honest, we could have won all three games, and I'm not being funny.

Obviously, beating Bosnia and Herzegovina away from home to reach the Euro 2020 play-off final was one of the year's big highlights, but there were also many low points as well.

Our downfall is in front of goal - we don't score enough goals. We are not particularly good in that department because we don't have players playing in top-flight (Premier League) football, and that's the difference.

We create chances, but our final pass or our final shot at times lets us down. We don't get enough shots on target. It's something we need to improve on. Oh, for another David Healy. He scored goals for fun and boys like that don't come around too often.

On the plus side, we have many good, young players now emerging into the senior set-up. That was highlighted in our final game against Romania.

I was particularly impressed by some of the young boys, and I know Jim Magilton is working hard to keep that conveyor belt moving.

Daniel Ballard is a great prospect and he produced a good, solid performance. The future certainly looks bright, with the likes of Jordan Thompson, Ali McCann, Matty Kennedy and Ethan Galbraith all playing a part. Thompson showed a lot of quality, while 19-year-old Galbraith is going to be a really good player - he's certainly one for the future. Like most of those boys, he will need time. They can't be hastily rushed in.

Add in the fact that Jamal Lewis, Paddy McNair, Gavin Whyte and Bailey Peacock-Farrell are all still only young lads, it certainly bodes well for years to come. So, there are a lot of pluses in there for me in that respect.

I think Ian Baraclough is still pondering on what is the best formation. Formations all depends on how solid you are at the back.

When we played back in the 1980s, David McCreery was our anchor man. Sammy McIlroy and Martin O'Neill had good engines and worked really hard in the middle of the park.

I know Ian will not have a problem with work ethic in his Northern Ireland squad. He has plenty of lads that will do the work, and Josh Magennis and Conor Washington work their socks off up front.

I watched the Spaniards recently and they played 4-2-3-1. I think that's a formation that would suit us.

A back four, with two anchor men, three in front of them and one target man. I think that would suit Ian and the players he has.

It's been a baptism of for the manager... it was always going to be a massive gig replacing Michael O'Neill, but he can take a lot of credit the way he has gone about his business. He would have been hailed the new Messiah had we qualified for Euro 2020.

Slovakia had three shots at goal and scored with two of them - that was the difference.

If Kyle Lafferty's shot in the last minute hit the inside of the post, it would have gone into the net. That's how close we were.

But with the World Cup qualifier just around the corner, Ian has every reason to be optimistic.

Sunday Life