The key talking points as Northern Ireland take on Bulgaria

Ian Parker, PA
·3-min read

Northern Ireland resume their World Cup qualifying campaign on Wednesday night when Bulgaria visit Windsor Park.

The fixture has been billed as a ‘must-win’ game as Northern Ireland try to avoid digging themselves a hole in Group C.

Here the PA news agency takes a look at five key talking points ahead of the big night.

Points on the board

Italy v Northern Ireland – FIFA 2022 World Cup – Qualifying – Group C – Stadio Ennio Tardini
Northern Ireland left Italy frustrated they had not been able to take the chances they created (Alessio Marini/PA)

Northern Ireland drew plenty of plaudits for their second-half performance in last Thursday’s 2-0 qualifying defeat to Italy as they looked the better team for long stretches, while there were more positive signs as a youthful side acquitted themselves well against the United States on Sunday. But compliments count for nothing in qualifying, and Ian Baraclough has admitted this is exactly the sort of match Northern Ireland must win if they are to keep up with Italy and Switzerland at the top of the group. The pressure is on to get a result.

Winless run a concern

Northern Ireland v Slovakia – UEFA Euro 2020 – Play-offs – Final – Windsor Park
Ian Baraclough’s only win in charge so far came in the penalty shoot-out against Bosnia and Herzegovina (Liam McBurney/PA)

To get the three points they need, Northern Ireland will need to earn their first win inside 90 minutes under Baraclough, who has only had the penalty shoot-out against Bosnia and Herzegovina to celebrate in his 10 games in charge to date. The long wait for a victory has become an increasing talking point in this international window, and may begin to weigh on the minds of the players.

Lack of goals

Northern Ireland v USA – International Friendly – Windsor Park
Niall McGinn, left, scored a fine goal in the defeat to the United States (Liam McBurney/PA)

When trying to find the cause of the winless run, there is only one place to start. The goals against column is skewed considerably by conceding five to Norway at Windsor Park last September, but Northern Ireland are yet to score more than once in a single game since Baraclough took over. Creating chances has not looked like a problem recently, but too few of them are finding the net, with Niall McGinn’s superb late goal on Sunday only the seventh of Baraclough’s reign.

Landmark night

Steven Davis File Photo
Steven Davis will break yet another record on Wednesday night (Liam McBurney/PA)

Another appearance record for Steven Davis seems like nothing new these days, but that does not mean it does not need to be recognised. The 36-year-old is set to lead out the side and earn his 126th cap, pulling ahead of Peter Shilton for the British appearance record. Such was his performance against Italy last week that Baraclough called on pundits to “stop trying to retire” the Rangers midfielder, who looks like he can keep going for some time to come.

Experienced heads

Norway v Northern Ireland – 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying – Group C – Ullevaal Stadion
Neither Jonny Evans nor Davis were in the squad for Sunday’s friendly (Martin Rickett/PA)

Baraclough admitted a number of players had given him something to think about with their displays against the United States, but on Wednesday night we can expect him to revert to a side close to the one picked to face Italy. The likes of Jonny Evans, Stuart Dallas, Craig Cathcart, and Paddy McNair will surely all be recalled to the side. That said, McGinn will hope his late goal has given the manager food for thought.