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Nations League: Disinterested, baffling and poor – former internationals criticise NI

‘There was good, bad and indifferent’ – Baraclough on Cyprus draw

It was another game to forget as Northern Ireland limped their way to a lacklustre 0-0 draw against Cyprus in the Nations League.

So disappointing, in fact, that some of the 600-strong travelling Green and White Army jeered their team off at the final whistle in Larnaca on Sunday afternoon.

It followed a dismal 1-0 defeat by Greece at Windsor Park three days earlier in their League C Group 2 opener.

The pressure is mounting on manager Ian Baraclough after just three wins in 18 competitive outings since taking charge in 2020.

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A victory in the Nations League still eludes Northern Ireland following nine defeats and three draws, with the the Cyprus stalemate coming against a team 51 places below them in the world rankings.

Northern Ireland have another two Nations League matches this week, starting away against Kosovo on Thursday and then it’s Cyprus again on Sunday in Belfast.

Three former Northern Ireland stars – John O’Neill, Jim Magilton and Warren Feeney – were part of the BBC Radio Ulster team covering the Sunday’s game and they gave a damning assessment of the performance.

John O’Neill (Defender, 39 caps – 1980-86)

“The best thing you can say about this is that we didn’t get beat, because Cyprus certainly had the best chances. Ali McCann came very close to stealing it with a few minutes to go, but I don’t think we would have deserved that.

“I think Cyprus are delighted with the point. I think we played the wrong side – playing Paddy McNair at right-back, I think he looked totally disinterested and wasn’t his usual self up and down the park. The substitutions baffled me.

Frustration for Northern Ireland midfielder Ali McCann after missing a late chance against Cyprus
Frustration for Northern Ireland midfielder Ali McCann after missing a late chance against Cyprus

“I just don’t understand, unless he was injured, why he [Barraclough] took Shea Charles off. Their [Cyprus] substitutions actually gave them a bit of a lift.

Liam Donnelly came on but couldn’t get up to the pace of the game at all. I think the substitutions disrupted the game at a time when we were probably having our best spell in the game.

“But it is what it is. We have got to go to Kosovo now and I don’t think the team will be looking forward to that to be honest.”

Jim Magilton (Midfielder, 52 caps – 1991-2002)

“It was just poor finishing on Northern Ireland’s part. It wasn’t great, in all honesty it was poor.

“Conor McMenamin did really well when he came on, at least he injected a bit of enthusiasm and pace. He whipped in two or three really good balls into the box, but there was just a lack of intensity all over the park from Northern Ireland, and on another night they could have been punished.

“You have had a full season and you know you have four games coming, you haven’t played particularly well in the first two so physically you have to recover to move on to game three. If we do not beat Cyprus at home then we are in big trouble.

“Kosovo away might be a little bit tricky, but given where they are in the Fifa rankings, given the quality of player that NI have at our disposal, the lack of quality and the lack of intensity is what would be scaring me a little bit.

“Lack of creativity, lack of goalscoring chances, players are in the team to create those chances and we simply haven’t done that over the two games.

“One of our most influential players from a central midfield area, when you are watching games, you see Paddy McNair running from midfield and he disrupts the opposition and yet he looked totally disinterested.”

Warren Feeney (Forward, 46 caps – 2002-11)

“It was poor. It was a must-win game and we didn’t come away with anything at all. You can’t come away from that game thinking we deserved to win.

“Quite clearly Cyprus were the better team, if they had a bit more quality and were more clinical we would have lost that game. They had clear-cut chances yet we only had one, from a ball into the box.

Cyprus squandered two excellent opportunities to win the game in Larnaca
Cyprus squandered two excellent opportunities to win the game in Larnaca

“I was 100% surprised to see Shea Charles go off. When Liam Donnelly came on, I don’t want to be unfair to him, but you could see he is not familiar with it.

“He gave the ball away and he was trying to play catch-up at times. I just couldn’t believe that Shea was brought off. You can see that he is neat and tidy and he could have sat in there in front of the back four. It was confusing, even with Brodie Spencer.

“You’re putting a right-footer into left-back in international football, it was a strange one because against better opposition you will keep the kid coming in the pitch. But, yes, there is a problem at full back and we touched on it with Paddy.

“He had a great chance to put the ball in the channel but he did exactly as he did in the first half when he turned, passed the ball back to Jonny Evans then stood there. You can just tell he is not familiar and looks as if he is not happy with that position.”

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