5 talking points as Northern Ireland host United States in friendly

Ian Parker, PA
·3-min read

Northern Ireland return to action on Sunday evening when they face the United States in a friendly at Windsor Park.

The match comes between the opening two World Cup qualifiers, with Bulgaria due in Belfast on Wednesday following last week’s loss to Italy.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five talking points before the match.

All eyes on Bulgaria

Italy v Northern Ireland – FIFA 2022 World Cup – Qualifying – Group C – Stadio Ennio Tardini
Northern Ireland left Italy frustrated but buoyed by the number of chances they created (Alessio Marini/PA)

The United States might be next on the fixture list but everything Northern Ireland do this weekend will be in the context on Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier. Thursday’s 2-0 defeat in Italy was not a surprise in terms of the result, but the second-half performance was a welcome sign of how this side can play under Ian Baraclough. That said, positive signs need to be turned into points this week so that Northern Ireland are not left playing catch-up in Group C. That will feed into every decision Baraclough makes, most obviously in terms of his starting line-up.

Will it be a record-breaking night for Davis?

Italy v Northern Ireland – FIFA 2022 World Cup – Qualifying – Group C – Stadio Ennio Tardini
Steven Davis matched Peter Shilton’s British caps record on Thursday night (Alessio Marini/PA)

Baraclough could be forgiven for wrapping his captain Steven Davis in cotton wool ahead of Wednesday’s fixture, but the Rangers midfielder is always eager to play and has turned out in friendlies between vital qualifiers before. Should he play any role at Windsor Park, Davis will earn his 126th cap and move clear of Peter Shilton’s British record.

Charles to get his chance?

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Dion Charles took the headlines when Baraclough announced his squad last week as the in-form Accrington striker earned his first senior call-up. However, the 25-year-old was not in the matchday squad in Parma as Baraclough was eager for him to take it slowly as he finds his way within the group. If the manager is looking for a low-pressure environment in which to introduce Charles, Sunday’s friendly is the obvious option.

Who goes in goal?

Celtic v Hamilton Academical – Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership – Celtic Park
Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard has one cap to his name (Andrew Milligan/PA)

With Trevor Carson and Michael McGovern out injured, the goalkeeping group this week is very fresh-faced. The quartet have only 21 caps between them, and 20 of those belong to the 24-year-old Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Conor Hazard has the other, with both Liam Hughes and Nathan Gartside getting their first taste of a senior squad.

European Tour

Wales v USA – International Friendly – Liberty Stadium
Barcelona’s Sergino Dest scored his first international goal for the United States on Thursday (David Davies/PA)

The visitors are spending this international window playing friendlies in Europe as cross-Atlantic travel is minimised during the pandemic. They have arrived in Belfast from Austria, where they played Jamaica in a friendly on Thursday night, winning 4-1 in Wiener Neustadt. Barcelona’s Sergino Dest, fresh from getting his first LaLiga goals last week, scored his first international goal to get them off the mark.