Football/Soccer

Watford change doesn't affect Cathcart for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's Craig Cathcart (left) up against Switzerland's Andi Zeqiri during the World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park last month.

IF Craig Cathcart is as unperturbed on Saturday night as he was when hearing his club boss had been sacked then Northern Ireland will be halfway to a great result in Switzerland.

Of course, Watford change managers with such regularity that he has played under 13 different men since signing in June 2014, including two spells each for Quique Sanchez Flores and caretaker Hayden Mullins.

Claudio Ranieri has already replaced Xisco Munoz, whose departure Cathcart only heard about from his sister:

"I was at home on Sunday, I wasn't watching TV. I was just chilling at home with my kids. I was off that day. I try to switch off from everything.

"My sister messaged me and told me, that was it. I was surprised - it was a bit of a surprise but that's the way the owners do things. They have things in place, they make a decision and change things quickly.

"It's what they've done over the years and it's worked so we can't dwell too much on it. For us as players we have to accept it and get behind the new manager.

"I think if you look at the success over the last five or six years, we've sustained success. Obviously we had that long stint in the Premier League, we went down and we bounced straight back up so you can't really say too many bad things about it. It works well…

"For me it's not nice when someone gets sacked - it shows something isn't going well. We wish the manager who has been all the best for trying to give us everything but we have to accept the board's decision and get behind the new manager and pull together and get the best out of the situation."

As for working with the charismatic Ranieri, Cathcart commented: "We have to look forward to it. He's got a lot of experience in the Premier League, he's won the Premier League so it's a new coach, a new challenge for everybody. Hopefully he can come in and help us achieve our goals."

Cathcart isn't concerned about being scrutinised by new boss Ranieri on Saturday night, explaining: "It's not something I have really thought about. Once I come away with Northern Ireland my full focus is on being here and trying to perform to the best of my abilities. It won't change my approach to the game at all."

Indeed, he says he's had no contact with Watford team-mates about since coming over to Belfast: "Nothing, honestly, I haven't spoken to anyone since I've been here. Maybe I'll catch up with them later in the week when they've had a week's training under the new manager to see how things are. I'm just focused on things here and I'll worry about all that when I go back."

He's equally calm about the prospect of facing the Swiss after a fine defensive display in the goalless draw at Windsor Park last month.

Cathcart was the senior man in a defence without Jonny Evans, Paddy McNair, and Stuart Dallas, but felt that any appearance of his 'stepping up' was more due to a slight change in his role:

"I think just playing in the middle of the back three means a bit more responsibility anyway. You're the one who's going to be covering the spaces, pushing the team up when we need to get out, that all came into it.

"You need to talk a bit more when you're playing in the middle, you can see everything. We all felt pretty comfortable in that game defensively."

Switzerland did try different attacking formations, but were repelled well by Cathcart and Co: "They like to try to draw one of the centre backs out and play into the spaces, but I think our distances were really good. As soon as someone stepped out the other players closed the gaps in behind.

"It'll be no different out there, they're going to try to do that again, so we're going to have to make sure we're in the right position, cover the spaces where they're most dangerous."

Swiss boss Murat Yakin will be able to call on the attacking talent of Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo after both missed the trip to Belfast, but the visitors are boosted by the return of McNair and Dallas - and possibly Jonny Evans.

Even if the Leicester City man doesn't travel to Geneva Cathcart believes Ian Baraclough's side can cope without him: "It would be great if Jonny was available but the way we've played in the last few games, the young players coming in, they will be dying to play again. I don't think there would be any worry if they're asked to step up to the plate again."

"That's what the squad is for. There's more strength in depth now, so, yeah, in that sense everything is looking good…

"Obviously they're a top team, they kept the ball a lot but I think we defended well, we created opportunities when it came to us and overall we were happy with the game.

"We could have come out with a win but overall a draw was probably the fair result. We've been working on things this week to try and be a bit better and maybe making more of our opportunities when they come."

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Football/Soccer