Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough insists his players are “hungry” for success against Estonia.
The senior men’s team boss says today’s friendly in Tallinn (5pm start, UK time) offers an opportunity for players to show what they can do ahead of Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier against Switzerland in Belfast.
He revealed he will be making several changes to his team following the 4-1 success against Lithuania in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday.
Baraclough said it will be a chance to “test and look at” players to see how they handle the international stage and the occasion.
“This game will allow players to stake a claim to be involved against Switzerland. I can sense they are hungry to win it,” he added.
The manager said his instructions ahead of the Lithuania game were for his team to play with energy, freedom and without fear – and he wants to see more of the same at the A Le Coq Arena later today.
Paddy McNair, who will miss the match against Switzerland due to suspension, is expected to start against the Estonians.
However, don’t expect many others from the eleven who lined up against Lithuania to be involved from the first whistle.
Among those coming in to the team are winger Niall McGinn, who will captain his country for a second time as he earns his 67th cap, and central defender Tom Flanagan, who returns to the fold after a frustrating end to last season when he was hampered by a series of injuries.
McGinn is confident those pulling on the shirt against the Estonians will rise to the occasion.
He further pointed out: “As a group we are always looking to get better. We always back each other whether we are playing or not.”
And Flanagan said: “It’s a great opportunity for the boys who did not play against Lithuania to put their cards on the table.”
Estonia come into the game after suffering a 5-2 home defeat to Belgium in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday.
Baraclough believes they will also have players keen to impress ahead of their next qualifier, which is against Wales (away) on Wednesday.
The victory in Vilnius last week means Northern Ireland have four points from their three European Group C qualifiers to date, while Estonia have not managed to secure a point in their three games so far in Group E. However, they did win three challenge matches back in June against Lithuania, Finland and Latvia.
VVV Venlo striker Erik Sorga, who came off the bench to score against the Belgians, is expected to start this time – as is midfielder Markus Poom, son of Mart Poom, the former Derby County, Sunderland and Watford keeper who is now Estonia’s goalkeeping coach, and young Tottenham Hotspur defender Maksim Paskotsi.
However, it’s likely veteran midfielder and captain Konstantin Vassiljev, who has won more than 130 caps for his country, will sit this one out along with fellow midfielder Mattias Kait, who also netted against Belgium.
Northern Ireland’s regular captain and most capped player, Steven Davis, will also not be involved in the game.