Only way is up for Northern Ireland women and Oxtoby against Albania
Uefa Women’s Nations League B1, round 2: Northern Ireland v Albania (Seaview, 7pm Tuesday)
THE only way is up for Northern Ireland and Tanya Oxtoby against Albania tomorrow night.
The 3-0 loss away to the Republic of Ireland on Saturday was far from unexpected, far from disastrous against a team far higher in the rankings.
Not good, but only half as bad as the beginning for her predecessor Kenny Shiels, a 6-0 loss at home to Norway – and his time in charge went pretty well eventually.
The visit of Albania to Seaview is a quick opportunity for the Australian to record her first victory in charge.
On paper, this should be a home win.
Albania are rated the weakest team in the group, 72nd in the world and 35th in Europe, compared to the hosts at 47th and 27th respectively.
However, they did hold Hungary to a 1-1 draw in Shkoder on Friday, which also means they’ve had almost a day’s more rest/ recovery than NI. Hungary are five places above NI in those Fifa world rankings.
The Albanians finished fourth in World Cup qualifying Uefa group F, behind Norway, Belgium, and Poland, with their only wins coming against Armenia (twice) and neighbours Kosovo.
Centre-forward Kristina Maksuti is one goal threat, with others coming from midfielders Mega Doci and Qendresa Krasniqi, who scored the opener against Hungary.
Yet they’ll have to get past Sarah McFadden, who is set to reach 100 caps for Northern Ireland - and few players are more worthy of the title ‘centurion’. The Bellaghy woman is a warrior spirit, determined to defend her goal, her attitude typified by a goal-line clearance in the first half on Saturday.
Just as Marissa Callaghan fully merited leading NI out in front of the largest crowd they’ve ever played in front of, so ‘Sarah Mc’ deserves to have the captain’s armband against Albania.
The visitors defended fairly well in Dublin, behind only to a deflected goal until a blunder between goalkeeper Shannon Turner and Rebecca Holloway gifted the hosts their second.
It will be interesting to see if Oxtoby adopts a more attacking approach/ formation at home.
Shiels’s sides were adaptable between a flat back four or wing-backs and the talent is there out wide to go for it more against lesser opponents. Lauren Wade and the McGuinness sisters, Kirsty and Caitlin, are good options in attack, with only the first-named getting any game-time at the Aviva.
Chloe McCarron, Laura Rafferty, and Nadene Caldwell all came off the bench in Dublin too, and will be pushing for starting slots, along with the likes of Rebecca McKenna, Megan Bell, and Kerry Beattie.
Even if there aren’t too many personnel changes, the likes of Callaghan, Rachel Furness, Joely Andrews, and Caragh Hamilton should be able to show more going forward than they were allowed to do against the dominant Republic, struggling to create chances for Simone Magill and Emily Wilson on Saturday.