Northern Ireland senior women’s team manager Kenny Shiels has made a handful of changes to his squad for next month’s crunch FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifiers against Austria and England.
His 23-strong panel shows five changes from the squad chosen for the World Cup qualifiers against North Macedonia back in November.
The Northern Ireland senior women’s team boss has gone with his usual blend of youth and experience for the game against the Austrians in Wiener Neustadt on 8 April and the match against England at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park on 12 April.
He revealed: “I am not even thinking of the England game yet. Everything is revolving around Austria. We are looking at ways we can contain them and where we can attack them.”
Shiels will be keen to go one better against the Austrians, with whom Northern Ireland drew 2-2 back in October, and to put pressure on European Qualifying Group D table toppers England, who defeated his team 4-0 at Wembley the same month. To date more than 14,000 tickets have been sold for the home encounter against the Lionesses.
The Northern Ireland boss is well aware that a win against the Austrians would put his team on course to finish second in the group and potentially reach a play-off for a place at the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next year. “It’s going to be a tough encounter against Austria, but we will be ready for it,” he said.
Northern Ireland currently lie third behind England and Austria in Group D. They have 13 points from six qualifiers to date, having won four, drawn one and lost one.
England have won six from six, scoring 53 times without reply, while Austria are second in the table and narrowly ahead of Northern Ireland on goal difference. The Austrians also have 13 points but have scored 29 and conceded four compared to Northern Ireland’s 30 for and six against.
Returning to the fold for next month’s matches is Rangers Women midfielder Megan Bell (pictured above), who had a torrid time with injuries last year.
Also back are Glentoran Women midfielder Sam Kelly and Crusaders Strikers forward Emily Wilson, who were both injured for the qualifiers against the Macedonians.
And returning after a long-term injury is defender Abbie Magee, who recently moved from Linfield Ladies to Cliftonville Ladies. Her new club mate Toni-Leigh Finnegan is back as well after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Bell, Kelly, Wilson and Magee all took part in a squad training camp in Spain last month which involved friendlies against Faroe Islands (3-1 win), Switzerland (2-2 draw) and Romania (1-0 defeat).
Veteran Crusaders Strikers defender Julie Nelson and Glentoran Women midfielder Caragh Hamilton both missed the trip to Spain but return for the upcoming competitive games.
Glasgow City striker Kerry Beattie and Glentoran Women forward Danielle Maxwell are not included this time due to squad rotation, while veteran Linfield Ladies defender Ashley Hutton is still recovering from a long term injury, although she is well on the way to full fitness, according to her manager.
Also missing out this time are Crusaders Strikers pair Maddy Harvey-Clifford and Rachel McLaren, Louise McDaniel (Cliftonville Ladies) and Ciara Watling (Southampton Women),who were all in the squad that secured a 9-0 victory against North Macedonia at Seaview in November following a record-breaking 11-0 victory over the same opposition in Skopje earlier that month.
Julie Nelson is a direct replacement for Southampton Women defender Laura Rafferty, who was at the camp in Spain last month.
The Northern Ireland Women squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Austria and England is:
Goalkeepers: Jackie Burns (BK Hacken, Sweden), Becky Flaherty (Brighouse Town).
Defenders: Julie Nelson (Crusaders Strikers), Rebecca McKenna (Lewes Women), Rebecca Holloway (Birmingham City Women), Sarah McFadden (Durham Women), Kelsie Burrows (Cliftonville Ladies), Demi Vance (Rangers Women), Abbie Magee (Cliftonville Ladies).
Midfielders: Nadene Caldwell, Chloe McCarron, Caragh Hamilton, Sam Kelly and Joely Andrews (all Glentoran Women), Marissa Callaghan and Toni-Leigh Finnegan (both Cliftonville Ladies), Rachel Furness (Liverpool Women), Megan Bell (Rangers Women).
Forwards: Lauren Wade (Glentoran Women), Simone Magill (Everton Women), Kirsty McGuinness (Cliftonville Ladies), Caitlin McGuinness (Cliftonville Ladies), Emily Wilson (Crusaders Strikers).