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Conor Washington has tipped Dale Taylor to shine for Northern Ireland after the teenager made an immediate impact in training this week.
As this weekend’s closing World Cup qualifiers against Lithuania and Italy loom, the 17-year-old Nottingham Forest striker has wasted little time impressing his colleagues during sessions at Stormont, with Washington saying he had already produced a couple of ‘wow’ moments.
“I’ve been really impressed,” the Charlton forward said.
“He looks very accomplished which is not something you often say about a 17-year-old. You expect him to be a bit more raw than he is but he looks a real talent.
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“He’s a good size for a 17-year-old. He’s been exposed to the men’s game from a young age and that’s helped him, I think he’s got a really bright future.”
It remains to be seen if Taylor actually takes to the pitch during either match this week, with Ian Baraclough sure to take it slowly as he introduces another young face to his squad, eager to ensure expectations are kept in check.
Washington agreed it was important to give Taylor the time he needs, but Baraclough’s prediction that he was likely to take to senior training “like a duck to water” appears to be have been borne out so far.
“From what I’ve seen, he looks good off both feet, very technical with good movement and good finishing,” Washington added. “In the limited time I’ve seen him he looks quality.
“The biggest stand-out from him is he looks so sure of himself at this level with these players. At his age that’s a real big box to be ticked.”
Washington and Josh Magennis are the only experienced strikers, along with the more versatile Gavin Whyte, in Baraclough’s squad for this double-header, and Washington seems sure to start at Windsor Park on Friday night after scoring in his last two league games for the Addicks.
He was among the scorers when Northern Ireland beat Lithuania 4-1 in Vilnius earlier in the campaign, and is looking forward to a rematch before the more difficult prospect of Italy’s visit on Monday.
“It’s a good game for us, especially at home in front of our crowd,” he said of Lithuania. “It’s a game that we’re expected to go and win and we’d like to go out and put on a performance as well as get a result.”
Northern Ireland’s recent qualifying campaigns have gone the distance – whether with the success of reaching Euro 2016 or the disappointment of missing out on the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 via the play-offs.
That makes a double-header with little to play for a rarity but Washington said there would be no change in attitude.
“The intensity of the group is always the same,” he said. “It’s probably why we’ve done so well in a lot of these games. We haven’t often slipped up against teams you’d expect us to beat.
“I wouldn’t say it feels too different to be honest.
“It’s disappointing not to be fighting to the last breath but at the same time these games do mean a lot in the group and as individuals too – if you don’t put in a good performance you don’t get in a team that’s getting good results, and then your chances of keeping your place are slim.”