Ian Baraclough has promised Northern Ireland will be aiming to finish their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification campaign on a high.
And that means they will be going all out for maximum points when they face Lithuania tonight before European champions Italy come to town on Monday.
“We may not have met our target of reaching a play-off but we definitely want to finish our World Cup qualification campaign on a high,” the Northern Ireland manager insisted.
Baraclough will be without both midfielder Jordan Thompson and defender Daniel Ballard for tonight’s European Qualifying Group C encounter at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park (7.45 start). Both have knee injuries.
However, he does have the experienced Evans brothers back in the fold. Leicester City defender Jonny and Sunderland midfielder Corry both had to withdraw from the squad ahead of last month’s away qualifiers against Switzerland and Bulgaria due to injury.
Preston North End midfielder Ali McCann, who also missed October’s double header through injury, has returned to the panel as well.
The Northern Ireland boss is happy with his squad and how they have trained this week ahead of the penultimate game in the group.
In his Manager’s View column in the matchday programme for the game, he says: “Even though we defeated Lithuania 4-1 in Vilnius in September we will not be taking them lightly in this evening’s reverse encounter.
“We know the Lithuanians are strong, resolute and really compact. They had a good result at home to Bulgaria last month and their new coach is starting to implement fresh ideas.
“Lithuania will run for 90 minutes. They won’t make it easy for us and they have two or three players who can hurt you if you stand off them and give them time. We can’t allow that to happen.”
He also says he is delighted that the stadium will be close to capacity for both the Lithuania match and the game against Italy, who are taking on Switzerland at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome tonight in a top of the table clash in Group C.
“The atmosphere against Switzerland in September was superb and I am really looking forward to leading the team out at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park once again,” he points out.
Baraclough also says he wants Northern Ireland fans to go home after this month’s double header looking forward to the UEFA Nations League and Euro qualifiers which are coming up over the next couple of years.
Lithuania ended their long wait to secure points in FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying when they beat Bulgaria 3-1 in Vilnius last month.
In recent matches they have typically set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that has appeared more like a 4-5-1 formation when they are out of possession, however their new head coach, former Hearts manager Valdas Ivanauskas, does like to tinker with systems.
Both of Lithuania’s full backs have license to get forward and support attacking moves. Right back Rolandas Baravykas scored in Lithuania’s 4-1 defeat at home to Northern Ireland in early September.