Ian Baraclough vows to build confidence amid Northern Ireland fans’ frustration

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Ian Baraclough has insisted Northern Ireland are on the right track despite hearing an angry reaction to Thursday’s 3-2 defeat in Kosovo as travelling fans called on him to go.

Some 500 fans had made the trip to Pristina and, after the final whistle saw Northern Ireland’s winless record in the Nations League extended to 13 games, they chanted “Cheerio” to the manager as he went to acknowledge their support.

Baraclough, who had targeted 12 points from this month’s four games but has seen his side collect only one from the opening three, said that response was “understandable”, but claimed Northern Ireland had taken a big stride forward in terms of performance as new faces gained needed experience.

“You’re trying to build performances, build that connectivity, build confidence within the group, players that are going into games maybe doubting if they’re right at this level, so you’re trying to give them that confidence that they are good enough,” he said.

“We don’t like the result but the performance was there, I don’t think they let down the supporters in what they gave in terms of fight and energy and the ability to go and break down a Kosovan side and create chances and put them on the back foot.

“For me you take that into Sunday’s game, you get the performance right, you cut out the little basic errors that have cost us.”

Baraclough has claimed extenuating circumstances throughout this camp, pointing to an injury list that includes Stuart Dallas, Josh Magennis, Corry Evans, Craig Cathcart and more – Paddy McNair having joined their number on Thursday – but another Nations League campaign has been a false dawn.

Entering the group as top seeds, Northern Ireland had genuine hopes of a securing a European Championship play-off place, but instead their dismal record in this competition goes on.

Baraclough, coming up to two years since he replaced Michael O’Neill, finds himself with only three wins in 19 competitive matches.

It was hard to find any fans defending him in Pristina after the match, and a win at home to Cyprus on Sunday is now the bare minimum he needs to prevent further revolt.

Northern Ireland certainly looked stronger in the closing stages of the match, pushing for a late leveller after Dan Ballard’s 83rd-minute header offered hope, but Baraclough’s claim his side had started well was harder to justify.

Captain Steven Davis was responsible for bringing down Milot Rashica in the box and Vedat Muriqi accepted the gift from the penalty spot before Zymer Bytyqi volleyed in a second before the mid-point of the first half.

Bailey Peacock-Farrell made a fine save to deny Florent Muslija before Shayne Lavery’s header moments before half-time reduced the deficit, but after Muriqi got his second seven minutes into the second half, even Northern Ireland’s late flurry was not enough.

There were positive signs from the two full debutants.

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough, right, gestures on the touchline
Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough, right, gestures on the touchline (Valdrin Xhemaj/PA)

Brodie Spencer, at fault for Kosovo’s second as he let Bytyqi slip away, recovered to get the assist for Lavery’s goal, while Conor McMenamin, the Glentoran winger getting his first international opportunity at 26, was the brightest spark in the first half.

The performances of the new faces remained Baraclough’s best defence of another disappointing night.

“I think we were brighter and had the impact from the bench as well, bringing fresh players in,” he said.

“You’ve got an Irish League player in there who didn’t think he’d be playing international football, Shea Charles, Brodie Spencer, Conor Bradley, the likes of Shayne Lavery, Dion Charles, you wouldn’t say they’re experienced yet either would you?

“Dan Ballard, Ciaron Brown, do I name any more? It looks bright for the future.”

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