Nations League: Ian Baraclough confident he is still best man to lead NI after poor displays

Ian Baraclough
Northern Ireland have yet to win a Nations League game
Nations League: Kosovo v Northern Ireland
Venue: Pristina Date: Thursday, 9 June Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Radio coverage on BBC Radio Sounds and Radio Foyle; highlights on BBC1 NI (23:20 BST) and live text commentary, match report & reaction on the BBC Sport website

Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough is confident that he is still the best man to take the team forward after a disappointing start to their Nations League campaign.

Some of the travelling 600 NI supporters jeered the side after their disappointing 0-0 draw away to Cyprus in their second game on Sunday.

That stretched NI’s search for a first win in the competition to 12 matches and meant the team have won just three of 18 competitive outings under the current manager.

“Yes, I have got the confidence that we are where we are and that we are building, that we are on the right track,” Baraclough responded when asked if he is still the best man to take Northern Ireland forward.

“There are always question marks and people will always question what you do.

“I knew taking the job that it wasn’t going to be all plain sailing and I am confident that we can go through and build from this Nations League and put together a really good series of games in the Euros.

“The end goal is to qualify for the Euros. It is not where we are now, let’s have a look at the end of the Euros.”

He added: “You are always running that gauntlet as a manager. That is not for me to discuss or for me to muse over because that distracts from the concentration.

“I need to put all my focus into the team and into the next game.

“We aren’t going to go off track, rip the paper up and start again. We know where we are going, we know where we want to be and we know that there are building blocks to get there.”

Baraclough ‘totally understands’ fans’ frustrations

Shayne Lavery
Sunday’s draw in Cyprus meant NI have won three out of 18 competitive matches under Baraclough

Northern Ireland go into Thursday night’s encounter in Pristina on one point and sitting third in Group C2, having produced a flat performance in their opening 1-0 defeat by Greece at Windsor Park.

Greece are top after two wins from two, with Kosovo second after beating Cyprus in their opening game before losing at home to the Greeks on Sunday.

It will be the first meeting between the two nations, with Kosovo having only been granted full membership of Uefa and Fifa in 2016.

Baraclough said he fully understands the frustrations of the NI supporters, but that he has to block out the criticism and focus on his job.

“I’ve said before that I am not on social media and I don’t read the papers,” he continued.

“I concentrate on what we can do to improve. If I was more focused on what was being said about me then I don’t think I could do my job properly. For me it is noise in the background.

“I can totally understand that fans are frustrated and we can understand that as a group at not getting the result and not seeing the team play to the best of their abilities all of the time.

“They spend their money on travelling to follow the team. We don’t take that for granted as a group of people. There is just as much frustration within the dressing room as there are on the terraces, I can assure you.

“We hope to give them something to smile about and to shout about in a positive way.”

‘Simple, consistent messages’ key to responding well

Alain Giresse
Former France international Alain Giresse was appointed Kosovo manager in February

In terms of how Northern Ireland go about improving on two uninspiring performances, Baraclough said they have done all they can in the time between matches to work on certain situations.

“You talk about situations, you talk to units, you talk to the squad as a group,” he said.

“You have training sessions, though you don’t have a full squad – we trained with 11 or 12 players on Tuesday. You do as much within that small space of time because these games come round thick and fast.

“You have to be true with simple, consistent messages in the hope that the players respond to that. We are all disappointed with the performances and the results, and we need to improve on that. I think there will be a renewed energy.”

Kosovo, managed by former France midfielder Alain Giresse, will be without Manchester City goalkeeper Aro Muric and Fidan Alti after both were sent off in their 1-0 loss to Greece on Sunday, a setback after they won 2-0 against Cyprus in their opening fixture.

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