Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland have goals in squad to see off Slovakia, says Baraclough

Tyrone (scoring) power: Niall McGinn (right) netted Northern Ireland's only goal of their past three games but the likes of Stuart Dallas (left) also pose a threat.

THE goal is getting to the Euros. A goal isn’t necessarily required, at least not before a penalty shoot-out, but Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough still believes his side has the scoring power to overcome Slovakia.

NI are averaging just over one goal per game since the start of 2019 – 16 goals in 15 games – and have only netted three times in their five matches this year, but ‘Bara’ insists they have the players to score in Thursday night’s play-off final:

“We’ve got players who can score goals, we can score goals in different ways. We’re a threat from set pieces, teams know that. We’re a team that can score goals from midfield, they can chip in. We’ve got a full-back who enjoys scoring goals as well, and it was pleasing to see Stuey Dallas being given that goal for Leeds against Leicester.

“We have got goals in the team. I know we’ve not been prolific of late and since before I took over as well. But on any given occasion we know we’ve got players who can go and put the ball in the back of the net.”

Baraclough pointed to skipper Steven Davis as one source of goals, with the Rangers man due his annual international goal of recent years – and having proved himself a player for the big occasion:

“‘Davo’, from a holding midfield position, scored two goals against Greece when this type of game came up [in 2015] – one game away from the Euros.

“People tend to hold their hand up at these types of games and make themselves heroes. There are plenty of potential heroes within that squad I’ve picked who are desperate to get their name on the score-sheet.”

With both sides having got to this stage by winning penalty shoot-outs – NI away to Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovakia at home to the Republic of Ireland – Baraclough acknowledged such a scenario was in his thinking:

“You know I’ve thought about penalties, that’s something we’ve been working on for a few months anyway. If it needs to go there, we know we’ve got players who can last 120 minutes.

“If it goes to penalties we know we’ve got players who can go and deal with that situation. I’m sure the Slovakian camp will feel exactly the same, having won through their semi-final on penalties as well.”

Slovakia’s new caretaker manager, Stefan Tarkovic, has recalled a number of defenders, including the almost 36-year-old Martin Skrtel, and should be able to include Inter Milan’s highly-rated Milan Skriniar after he missed the semi-final against the Republic due to Covid-19.

Factor in the prize at stake it’s no surprise that Baraclough expects a tense night: “I think it will be a cagey affair, it may be a game of very few chances, and the team that can take their chances are clearly going to put themselves in the better position.

“We know if things start to go against us we can come back from disappointments. I’d prefer not to be coming back from a goal down, but if things do happen like that then we’ve got players who can deal with that situation.

“We’re doing everything we can to be as positive as possible and try to win the game in 90 minutes.”

Going back to his earlier remark, he’s already proud of his players, declaring: “They’re heroes in my mind. We’re in a really good position, we’re one game away from the Euros and there’s not too many Northern Ireland managers who’ve been able to say that about their players. They’ve put themselves in position where they can create history again.

“That’s something that I’ve always said to players: ‘Go and stretch the boundaries, don’t rest on your laurels because you’ve already been to one major championship’. There’s real hunger in the group to go on and achieve more and create history.

“When that’s been put in front of this group of players they’ve generally gone and stepped up to the challenge.”

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Football/Soccer