Under-pressure Ian Baraclough expects to remain in charge of Northern Ireland
Ian Baraclough said he expects to remain in charge of Northern Ireland after hearing more calls from fans for him to go before his side rallied to rescue a 2-2 draw at home to Cyprus.
Northern Ireland fell 2-0 down as Andronikos Kakoulli scored in either half for Cyprus, and there were briefly chants of ‘We want Bara out’ from the Windsor Park kop around the hour mark.
Paddy McNair pulled a goal back before Jonny Evans struck in the third minute of time added on to salvage a point, though a second draw in eight days against a side Northern Ireland expected to beat twice was not enough to prevent a chorus of boos at the final whistle.
The result means Northern Ireland remain winless in 14 Nations League outings, while they have only two points – both from fixtures against Cyprus – in a group they entered as top seeds two weeks ago.
Asked if he expected to remain in charge for September’s games against Kosovo and Greece, Baraclough said: “That’s not for me to decide. I would like to think so. I have a contract until the end of the Euros, Germany 2024 and that for me is where we’re looking to head.
“We’ve got to go through this pain to find out whether we can make ourselves stronger. I believe we will be stronger and that this group going forward are playing for the nation, playing for me. They’re hurting in there as well because they know they should be winning a game they’ve dominated like that.”
Although Windsor Park had done its best to inspire the fightback and even find a late winner, the final whistle was greeted with boos, and Baraclough heard more of those as he conducted post-match interviews on the side of the pitch.
“I think the majority realise where we are, what we’re trying to do,” the 51-year-old said. “We are exposing players in order to build for the future. That’s the realisation we’ve got to come to terms with.”
Baraclough again pointed to the number of youngsters in his squad – teenagers Shea Charles and Brodie Spencer both started the match – to cover for the absences of first-team regulars like Stuart Dallas, Craig Cathcart and Josh Magennis, as he said Northern Ireland would be stronger for the experience.
“I think the squad in September is going to be strong, I’ll certainly be picking from a bigger group of players,” he added. “To lose the players we did, we said coming into the window…Dallas, Cathcart, Magennis, you can’t doubt players of that ilk.
“We came in without a recognised left-back with Jamal Lewis and (Shane Ferguson) not available to us and losing players along the way, Bailey Peacock-Farrell today, we’ve had to deal with a lot.
“But the lads have stuck together, they’ve grown as a group and we’ve learned a lot about each other, and learned how to deal with adversity.”
But though there are plenty of extenuating circumstances, Northern Ireland cannot be happy with a return of two points from four games in a group they entered as top seeds.
The prospect of securing a European qualifying play-off place via the Nations League – a competition in which Northern Ireland remain winless after 14 matches – is gone, and instead there is the risk of a play-off to avoid relegation to League D.
“It’s not what we wanted,” Baraclough said. “It’s not good enough if we want to be winning the group…
“I’m not happy to be sitting here to say we’ve not won a game and I recognise the fan’s frustration on that front.”