Under-fire Ian Baraclough urges patience with Northern Ireland rebuild

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Under-pressure Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has said his bosses at the Irish FA understand the rebuilding phase his squad are in and believes they will give him time to see it through.

For a second match running Baraclough heard chants from Northern Ireland fans calling on him to go before his side rallied from 2-0 down to snatch a stoppage-time equaliser in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Cyprus.

Although the result could have been worse, a second draw in eight days against a Cypriot side they were expected to beat handily was not what Baraclough needed to stem the tide of criticism which ramped up with Thursday’s 3-2 defeat in Kosovo, where fans chanted ‘Cheerio’ after full-time.

Northern Ireland fans were unhappy with the defeat in Kosovo
Northern Ireland fans were unhappy with the defeat in Kosovo (Valdrin Xhemaj/PA)

But though frustration has spilled over on the terraces, IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson used his programme notes on Sunday to talk of “a squad in transition”, pointing to Baraclough’s “track record of bringing young players into the squad”.

Asked if the IFA were behind what he was doing, Baraclough said: “We have a strategy that is going to develop this nation and make us stronger in the next few years.

“How do you do that if you don’t give these young players the experience? You won’t find out about them, and I think we have found out some really positive stuff in the last fortnight.”

Baraclough, who has a contract through to Euro 2024, did not help himself with a bold assertion two weeks ago that Northern Ireland were targeting 12 points from four fixtures this month, only to deliver two as their winless record in the Nations League continued.

  • P14

  • W 0

  • D 4

  • L 10

He set that goal despite knowing he was without a string of regular first-teamers – Stuart Dallas, Craig Cathcart and Josh Magennis among them – and relying on untested teenagers like Shea Charles and Brodie Spencer.

Baraclough said: “If I had turned round at the start and said that I am aiming for three points out of these 12, you’d have gone, ‘Is this man crazy?’. Of course you are targeting four wins, but I knew what we were coming up against in Kosovo and Greece.

“I expected to beat Cyprus when we are at our full strength, yes, but going into these games and knowing that we were going in with untried and untested players…

“You don’t know what you are going to get, especially when they haven’t met each other before coming on the camp, and you have lads introducing each other not even sure who each other was.”

Northern Ireland fell 2-0 down at home to Cyprus
Northern Ireland fell 2-0 down at home to Cyprus (Niall Carson/PA)

Baraclough has an unwanted record of only three wins in 20 competitive matches in charge, although the existence of the Nations League means managers do not get many friendlies in which to test ideas.

The 51-year-old always had a tough act to follow coming after Michael O’Neill – who had a difficult first two years himself – and hopes to get the time needed to convince fans he can deliver.

“For a few years now the fans have been used to success,” he said. “There is going to be frustration because that is not what they have been used to, but they also had a settled side of pretty senior players who have gone on to achieve something pretty amazing in 2016.

“The year after we just fall short of reaching a World Cup in a play-off and two years after that we just fall short of getting to a Euros. So these fans have been treated pretty well with what they have seen and now it is a rebuilding period.”

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