Football: Gillespie eager for Armenia test

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The Independent Online
Keith Gillespie resumes World Cup duty for Northern Ireland today with his enthusiasm fully restored after a depressing start to the season when he lost his place at Newcastle United.

His spirits sunk lower when Northern Ireland went down in their opening Group Nine qualifier against Ukraine. But now, back in the Magpies' side, he is aiming to help fashion a victory against Armenia at Windsor Park today in a game the Irish must win.

Gillespie said: "Everyone was bitterly disappointed at losing to Ukraine, although the second-half performance was a big improvement on the first. We need to bombard the Armenians early on and pump balls into the box for our strikers.

"I don't necessarily mean a long-ball game. In fact I think our strength is in our passing and getting on to the flanks for players like myself and Michael Hughes. An early goal would settle everyone down and that is what we have to aim for. If it means winning only 1-0, then so be it. That means three points and nothing less will do."

The home manager, Bryan Hamilton, has emphasised to his players the need to talk to their team-mates. "We have no real dynamic leader like Dave Mackay, Graeme Souness or one of our own, Allan Hunter," he said: "That means it throws more responsibility on the individual. We need more verbals from the players. We know we can create chances, but we are not scoring goals and that is something that hopefully will change."

Gillespie says his game has improved since the arrival of Alan Shearer. He said: "You can only learn and develop when you play and train with top players. It's not all about Alan and Les [Ferdinand]. It's great working with Beardsley, Ginola and Asprilla."

Hamilton will not name his side until today, but is expected to give Sheffield Wednesday's Ian Nolan his debut at right-back. Reading's Barry Hunter is likely to resume his partnership with Leicester's Colin Hill in central defence - he missed the Ukraine game because of a knee injury. Armenia will be without their key midfielder Razmik Grigoryan, who suffered a knee injury in training yesterday at Coleraine.