World Cup qualifiers: ‘Northern Ireland need to relax in front of goal’ – Ian Baraclough after Bulgaria stalemate

Paddy McNair receives a yellow card for a tackle
Northern Ireland were frustrated by Bulgaria at Windsor Park

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough said his players need to relax in front of goal after a 0-0 draw against Bulgaria in World Cup qualifying.

The Windsor Park shutout followed a 2-0 defeat by Italy in the Group C opener and a 2-1 friendly loss to the USA.

NI have only scored seven goals in Baraclough’s 11 matches in charge.

“It’s just at this level, when results are not going for you then you start to snatch at things, so we have to try and relax them,” said Baraclough.

“When they go back to their clubs they’ll probably be hitting the back of the net.”

Baraclough said he was disappointed by the result which dented Northern Ireland’s hopes of progressing to a first World Cup finals since 1986 but was pleased with his players’ effort.

“I thought they tried to create a tempo, tried to press on the opposition, get the ball in wide areas and cross the ball,” said Baraclough.

“The effort was there and we created 13 or 14 efforts on goal and put 26 or 27 crosses into the box, we just needed that finishing touch.”

The 50-year-old was at a loss to explain his side’s lack of goals and said his team “just need the drop of a ball”.

Niall McGinn reacts to a missed chance at Windsor Park
Northern Ireland missed a number of chances to break the deadlock at Windsor Park

Stuart Dallas hit the crossbar in the first half with a header while Niall McGinn, Gavin Whyte and Jonny Evans all had chances to break the deadlock.

“Listen, it’s not falling for them at the moment. We can’t fault the lads for the chances that are being created, whether they are just snatching at things.”

Despite dominating the play, Bulgaria could have taken all three points when Dimitar Iliev’s header forced a superb save from Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the dying moments.

The Burnley keeper had come under criticism in recent matches, most notably after the Euro 2021 play-off defeat by Slovakia and Thursday’s World Cup opener against Italy, but Baraclough was full of praise for his goalkeeper for securing a point for Northern Ireland.

“That’s why he is in the goals. He’s had to concentrate for 88 minutes without having anything to do as such, and you have to come up with a save like that and he’s done it, he’s produced it and we could have been talking about a different result.”

Northern Ireland missing full Windsor Park

Baraclough admitted the draw leaves Northern Ireland with an uphill task if they are to qualify for the World Cup and said the two matches against Switzerland are must-win games.

Before then NI face Ukraine and Turkey in friendlies in June, then Lithuania in their next qualifier in September.

“We have to go and beat the likes of Switzerland away from home. That will be in a new season, we might be in different times then,” said Baraclough.

“Players will have been through a pre-season and we are talking about a completely different scenario. We’ve done it before and got big results away from home, we need to beat Lithuania here and we need to go away in the next game to Lithuania and win that game, and it puts a different slant on things.”

Baraclough believes an empty Windsor Park could have played a factor in the Bulgaria game and said the 18,500-strong ‘Green and White Army’ can unsettle the opposition.

“I said to the staff, in a quiet moment just to ourselves, that if there are 18,500 here then we win that game,” he added.

“The crowd suck the ball into the net and it puts opposition on the back foot as well. These are the times at the moment and hopefully in September we are able to have the fans back in.

“Let’s not get too down about it, we may have to beat Italy here on the final day, but if Windsor Park is bouncing and we can put in a performance like we did in the second half, I don’t believe it’s all dead and buried.”

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