Ian Baraclough believes a 3-5-2 formation can be a winning formula for Northern Ireland in their World Cup qualifying campaign.
The former under-21s boss is steadily making his own mark on the senior side, having been named as Michael O’Neill’s replacement last June.
One of the most notable changes has been in the formation – where O’Neill often favoured 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 in big games, Baraclough has increasingly gone to three at the back.
The formation produced encouraging results against Norway and Romania in the Nations League last year, and was in use again in Thursday’s defeat to Italy – a match in which the 2-0 score-line did not tell the whole story as Northern Ireland enjoyed the better of the second half.
And Baraclough said he felt the shape suited his side.
“I think we’re more of a threat when we’ve got two strikers and the onus is not just on one – certainly against defenders like (Leonardo) Bonucci and (Giorgio) Chiellini,” he said.
“I thought the players put in a great effort and caused problems in the second half, but if you’ve only got one up top you don’t give them as many problems and it can be a long shift.
“The lads are good enough to go and defend with three at the back and Stuart Dallas and Michael Smith were very good on both sides, they both get up and down the park.”
Dallas turned out at left wing-back in the absence of Jamal Lewis, who did not travel to Parma with a groin problem.
However, Baraclough said the Newcastle man could return either for Sunday’s friendly with the United States or Wednesday’s qualifier against Bulgaria.
Dion Charles, the Accrington striker who earned his first senior call-up, was also absent from the squad in Italy, but could feature at Windsor Park in the coming days.
“It’s his first time with the group and it’s very, very difficult for someone to come straight in and pick up the pace, first of all with the intensity of the lads in training and getting used to the way we want to play,” Baraclough said.
“I had in mind that the Italy game would be more of an experience for Dion to be amongst it, and he’ll get his chance in one or two of the next two games.”
Though Sunday’s friendly comes first, the Bulgaria match will take priority given the need to get points on the board in Group C.
Dallas said the players would take positives from the trip to Italy, and look to the match at Windsor Park with confidence as a result.
“We have to start winning games again,” Dallas said. “We have the friendly against the USA and I’m not sure what the manager will do in terms of team selection, whether he’ll make changes or not.
“But there were a lot of positives to take out of the game in Italy.
“We’ve always known the games against the likes of Bulgaria are must-win games, and that is not being disrespectful to them.
“We knew coming to Italy was always going to be a tough ask to get something. We can take a lot from the second-half performance and know there is a lot we can change from the first-half performance.”