Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough focused on the positives for next month’s Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final against Slovakia after another frustrating night in the Nations League.
Baraclough’s side suffered their seventh loss in eight games in the competition as a cruel Stuart Dallas own goal condemned them to a 1-0 defeat to Norway in Oslo on Wednesday, but a much-changed side held their own for the majority of the night and created several chances.
Baraclough made 10 changes from Sunday’s home defeat to Austria, retaining only Jonny Evans, and the performance gave the manager something to think about as he ponders his options for the Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final against Slovakia on November 12.
“We’ve come out of the game I think with a lot of positives,” Baraclough said. “We wanted to look at as many players as possible in these three games.
“After the two games we’ve had – away in Bosnia, 120 minutes and penalties and the emotion of that, travelling back, Austria and the tough 90 minutes and then travel again here – I’ve got so much admiration for the way the boys applied themselves.
“Those that came in were ready, raring to go.”
Baraclough had planned to restore Bailey Peacock-Farrell after starting Michael McGovern in goal on Sunday, but the Burney stopper felt a thigh problem during the warm-ups to hand an opportunity to Trevor Carson, who made some key saves.
“To lose your goalkeeper 20 minutes before kick-off, all those disruptions went against us,” Baraclough added.
“I was delighted with the way they performed, especially in the first half when I felt we could have been two goals to the good.”
Jonny Evans, never expected to play the full match after clocking up 210 minutes in the last two matches, appeared to pull up before being replaced at half-time, though there was no information on his condition after the match.
Given how well Northern Ireland coped with a side who beat them 5-1 in Belfast last month, the 67th minute own goal pretty much summed up the way their luck has gone since this tournament was incepted by UEFA in 2018.
Martin Odegaard’s outswinging corner made it through a crowd of players before striking the helpless Dallas on the arm and spinning beyond Carson into the corner of the goal.
“I have just looked at it and that makes it even more disappointing because it has come off Stuart who was tussling with the big lad (Alexander Sorloth),” Baraclough said.
“Dan Ballard tried to throw himself at the ball and try and get something on it but didn’t and ‘Stuey’, it’s come off his back so to lose a game from that sort of goal is even more disappointing.
“We changed shape but it wasn’t to be. There are lots of positives to take from it. Now we go into November knowing that we can play in two or three different ways.
“A couple of players who came in and played their first game in a while have acquitted themselves really well and there is a lot for me to think about.”