- Northern Ireland boss says panel is in ‘good shape’ for triple header
Ian Baraclough believes his squad is in “good shape” ahead of the opening FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifier against Italy next week.
The Northern Ireland boss today named his panel for the European Qualifying Group C match against the Italians in Parma next Thursday (25 March), the home friendly against USA on 28 March and a further World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria on 31 March.
He said: “I am happy with the squad. We are in good shape. We have a good mixture of experienced players and young players.
“We have lots of players who are playing regularly for their clubs and hopefully they can all bring that form and consistency into the camp.”
His 26-strong panel features two players who have received their first call-ups to the senior group – Accrington Stanley attacker Dion Charles, who has been hitting the net regularly this season, and Derry City goalkeeper Nathan Gartside.
The manager said both players merited inclusion in the squad.
He revealed: “Dion is someone we have been aware of for some time. He has been consistent with his goalscoring. Seventeen goals in League One is not to be sniffed at. I feel it’s the right time to bring him in. I am sure he will be chomping at the bit.
“I am keen to bring through some of our young keepers, although I am sure both Michael McGovern and Trevor Carson (both injured) will want to get back into the squad as soon as possible. Nathan is number one at Derry City for now but I believe he can go and play at a higher level.”
Baraclough further revealed he is keeping an eye on “one or two niggles” in terms of players carrying injuries.
Defender/midfielder Paddy McNair has a swollen knee, however the manager said the swelling is already abating and he is confident he will be on the plane to Italy next week.
Vice-captain Jonny Evans has been dogged by a calf injury lately but again the boss believes he will be available for the forthcoming games.
He also confirmed Sunderland winger Jordan Jones was due to return to the panel for the triple header but injury has forced his withdrawal.