‘A win thrown away…but hope for the future’ – BBC pundits on Northern Ireland’s prospects

Paddy McNair and Rominas Camora
Paddy McNair battles for possession with Rominas Camora in the 1-1 draw with Romania in Belfast

Northern Ireland were within 10 minutes of achieving their first ever win in the Nations League on Wednesday night – Liam Boyce’s goal giving them a 1-0 lead against Romania at Windsor Park.

Eric Bicfalvi’s equaliser put pay to the prospect of a victory for Ian Baraclough’s men however – and so the wait for a maiden success goes on.

A series of substitutions in the final quarter of the game saw several players occupy unfamiliar positions, a move which BBC Radio Ulster’s analysts believe contributed to NI’s downfall.

With dreams of qualification for the European Championship finals quashed by Slovakia last week and relegation from the second tier of the Nations League confirmed, how do former Northern Ireland internationals Tommy Wright, John O’Neill and Keith Gillespie see the future for Northern Ireland with the draw for the World Cup qualifying campaign to come on 7 December?

Tommy Wright (31 Northern Ireland caps and ex-St Johnstone manager): “I’m frustrated because that was a win lost [against Romania]. I couldn’t see Romania getting back into the game and we have to look at the changes we made.

“We went from 3-5-2 to 5-4-1, had several players playing out of position and just handed the game to Romania. We made changes I believe we didn’t really have to make.

“In the end we had to rely on Bailey Peacock-Farrell making a save to avoid us losing 2-1, as we did in Austria.

“I am extremely disappointed with a point as we should have seen the game out. A win would have given us a bit of confidence going into the start of the World Cup qualifiers in March.

“The back three with two wing-backs gives us that platform to look more solid but you want to win football matches and we threw that one away.”

Former St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright
Tommy Wright stepped down as St Johnstone manager in May

John O’Neill (39 Northern Ireland caps and ex-Leicester City defender): “The substitutions totally disrupted us – things were going well when we were playing two up front, then all of a sudden we were playing one up front again and it handed Romania the initiative.

“We gave them all the space in the world and we got punished for it.

“World Cup qualifying will be difficult as with us being in Pot Three there will be two higher-ranked teams above us but Alistair McCann was outstanding on Wednesday and players like that give you hope that down the line we will develop into a better side.

“I think our biggest problem is getting a system that suits us and 3-5-2 seems to be the system we are going to go with. If we had played that way against Slovakia I think we would have won.

“Daniel Ballard coming in at the back is a big plus. He is good at defending and good on the ball and gives us a third central defender with Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart.

“McCann coming in is another positive and if we don’t think Steven Davis has the legs to do what he used to, then Paddy McNair can do that for him.

“You’ve got Stuart Dallas there as well and provided we have the likes of Jonny Evans available and if we can get two strikers up front and get ourselves further up the park, then there’s the basis of a team there.”

John O'Neill and Keith Gillespie
John O’Neill and Keith Gillespie were part of BBC Radio Ulster’s team for the Nations League game with Romania

Keith Gillespie (86 Northern Ireland caps, former Manchester United and Newcastle United winger): “We should have been looking at a victory, we played well enough in the second half to achieve that, bar the last 15 minutes or so.

“When we made the substitutions we kept getting deeper and deeper and playing players out of position compounded the situation.

“We were looking for a victory to give us that momentum and looked well on the road to it when we went 1-0 up, but we gave it back to them, we handed them the initiative.

“They had a lot of possession then and they started to hurt us round the box. It was no surprise when they got the equaliser.

“I don’t know whether the fact that there has been so much talk about Ethan Galbraith meant Ian Baraclough felt he had to give him minutes but within three or four minutes of that it was all square and then we just couldn’t get on the ball and put on any pressure.

“Ali McCann was man-of-the-match for me. He has been outstanding, a real find in the last two games and he was excellent on Wednesday night, along with Daniel Ballard.”

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