Any side going into a game without seven key players would struggle, however Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough is not going to use it as an excuse ahead of tonight’s UEFA Nations League clash with Romania in Belfast.
Captain Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty, Niall McGinn, Corry Evans, George Saville, Jordan Jones and Jordan Thompson are all missing the match for various reasons.
Romania, by contrast, are in rude health and are expected to be a lot fresher given their Nations League match against Norway scheduled for Bucharest at the weekend was cancelled after the Norwegian government would not allow their national team to travel to Romania due to Covid restrictions.
And while Northern Ireland were immersed in a grueling play-off final last Thursday the Romanians were recovering from a 5-3 victory over Belarus in a friendly the previous night. And then Northern Ireland were in action again on Sunday night, taking on Austria in Vienna.
Baraclough, however, insists his players are “ready to go” against the Romanians and are in determined mood as Northern Ireland seek their first victory in the Nations League across two editions of the competition.
“Despite conceding two late goals, and leaving Vienna empty handed, there were a lot of positives in the performance against the Austrians at the Ernst Happel Stadion,” he said in the matchday programme for tonight’s game at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park (7.45pm kick-off).
And he added: “I thought the players who came in to the team on Sunday acquitted themselves really well. And it proved once again, just like in the away match against the Norwegians last month, that we have good depth to our squad.”
UEFA has not ruled yet if Romania will be given a 3-0 walkover win – and therefore three points – following the cancellation of their game against Norway.
If Romania are not awarded the three points then Northern Ireland could still avoid relegation to the third tier in the Nations League.
The boys in green and white currently have one point in League B Group 1 going into their final game of the six-match series, while the Romanians have four, but the score draw in Bucharest in game one and a win tonight would mean Baraclough’s team would have the better head-to-head record.
The manager insisted: “We fought back well with 10 men to claim a point after falling behind against the Romanians in Bucharest in September. It will be tough again tonight – international matches are never easy – but I believe we can register that Nations League victory which has proved to be elusive to date.”
Jonny Evans is expected to captain the side and Baraclough looks set to field a team loosely based on the starting eleven against Slovakia last week.
After experiencing success as manager of Romania’s U21 team, Mirel Rădoi was appointed as manager of Romania’s senior national side last November.
There appears to have been a shift in playing approach under his management compared to his predecessors with a greater emphasis on taking the match to their opponents rather than sitting back and looking to hit teams on the counter attack.
Romania have a number of technically gifted players at their disposal and Northern Ireland will have to be on their toes to keep them quiet.