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Ian Baraclough has demanded a response from his Northern Ireland players after their Nations League campaign began with a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Greece.
Defeat was a setback in Northern Ireland’s bid to escape League C, where they find themselves having still never won a game in this competition after 11 attempts.
Baraclough could argue there was little in Thursday’s match other than Tasas Bakasetas’ 39th minute strike, but Northern Ireland struggled to carve out chances and, despite a late flurry of balls into the box, rarely threatened an equaliser.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) June 2, 2022
The Green and White Army are now on their travels for away games against Cyprus and Kosovo before Cyprus visit Windsor Park next Sunday, and must show improvement.
“It’s always important,” Baraclough said of responding properly. “I don’t like losing. It was an even game. I think we’ve had more strikes at goal than them but we’ve not tested the keeper enough.
“I think they had two shots on target and they scored with one. We’re learning that if we’re not quite at it, then we lose the game.
“We lost it from a ball in the middle of the park, they broke, got the strike off from the edge of the box. We’ve been good in those situations but the goal hurt us.
“We’ve not done that in a while. We’ve got to make sure if we’re not at it to win a game we need to make sure we don’t lose it.”
Northern Ireland were too flat, something Baraclough put down to rustiness with several players having had a significant break since their last competitive match, and it took the introduction of Kyle Lafferty and Niall McGinn – both 34 – just after the hour to add some impetus.
Though they needed their veterans, it was another significant night for the next generation as 18-year-old Shea Charles made his debut as a substitute and the two wing-back positions were manned by Conor Bradley and Paddy Lane from the start.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) June 3, 2022
Manchester City midfielder Charles is yet to play a senior club game and had made only one appearance for the under-21s, fast-tracked through the youth ranks, but Baraclough said there was no hesitation in sending him on while chasing a game.
“They’ve got to learn,” he said of Northern Ireland’s youngsters. “When are they going to get that experience? This is the time, this is the competition. All of a sudden you might be calling on them to play in the Euros and they can’t just come in cold.”
Bradley, starting at right-back, enjoyed a tussle with his Liverpool team-mate and Greece left-back Kostas Tsimikas until being replaced by McGinn.
“It will be a learning curve for them,” Baraclough said. “It’s different starting a game to coming on. Conor has come on in a couple and he’s started a couple now.
“It’s a learning curve, when to release the ball, when to run behind, that decision making. He’s playing under-23s at the moment.
“In international football your decisions have to be made a bit quicker. But we’ll nurture him, we’ll talk him through it. He wants to get better and he will. The experience will help him.”