Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough says it is “understandable” that supporters chanted “cheerio” to him after his side’s 3-2 defeat by Kosovo.
A large section of the 500-strong travelling fans in Pristina made their frustrations known to Baraclough as he went over to acknowledge them at the end of Thursday’s Nations League game.
Before the match, he said he believed he was still the best man to lead NI.
They have won just three of the 19 competitive games during his reign.
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Baraclough said: “They’re here, they want to follow and watch their team, but what do we do about players who are being blooded and building for the future?
“We knew we had to go through a certain amount of pain on it as well and we are, as it goes forward.
“You’ll see improvement and you’ve seen a difference between the first two games and this one tonight.”
‘Let’s not be all negative’
The defeat in Kosovo means Northern Ireland have secured just one point from back-to-back away games against sides ranked more than 50 places below them.
It continued what has been a dismal start to Nations League Group C2 for Northern Ireland, who were top seeds going into this opening quadruple-header after being relegated from the second tier of the competition.
It also extends a hugely frustrating winless run in the competition, first launched in 2018, to 13 matches – with Baraclough overseeing six defeats and three draws during his two years in charge.
The former Motherwell manager had said he was looking for four wins from these four opening matches, but they now go into Sunday’s home meeting with the Cypriots on just one point after opening with a flat 1-0 defeat against Greece before an uninspiring 0-0 draw in Cyprus on Sunday.
He again pointed to the inexperience in his side – with Stuart Dallas, Josh Magennis, Corry Evans and Craig Cathcart missing – and having given Brodie Spencer and Conor McMenamin their full debuts in Kosovo.
“Count the caps,” he said. “Take Steven [Davis], Jonny [Evans], Kyle [Lafferty] out of the side and see how inexperienced the group is.
“We lost Paddy McNair on the morning of the match. They have to learn and get that experience from somewhere.
“I thought the young lads showed great spirit, the lads coming off the bench as well. Shea Charles, Conor Bradley, they’re lads who weren’t around a few months ago, who might have expected to be playing for the Under-21s or Under-19s.
“Let’s not be all negative about the way they’ve gone and played. Yes, about the result. I understand that, and I understand the fans’ frustration but there are ways to losing a game of football and that’s it.”
‘Windsor crowd will get behind NI against Cyprus’
Northern Ireland were 2-0 down inside 20 minutes in Pristina through a Vedat Muriqi penalty and Zymer Bytyqi’s volley.
Shayne Lavery pulled a goal back for the visitors on the stroke of half-time but after Muriqi scored again early in the second half, it appeared over until Daniel Ballard’s 83rd-minute header set up a frantic finale in which McMenamin missed a great chance to grab an unlikely equaliser.
There was huge pressure on Baraclough and the players going into Thursday’s match, and that will intensify further as anything but a home win over Cyprus would surely lead to an ever bigger reaction from the Windsor Park crowd.
“Play like that, with that intensity and positivity, and create the chances we create and I’m sure we’ll win the game,” Baraclough added.
“If Windsor can get behind the young kids, behind the team in full, the onus is on us to do something, to start with intensity and take the game to the opposition.
“I think the crowd will be all in behind the team, not a problem.”