Sanchez out to atone for shame of 'silly' defeat

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The Independent Football

There were many emotions darting around the home dressing-room at Windsor Park on Saturday and the Northern Ireland striker James Quinn did not deny that anger, upset and embarrassment were chief among them.

There were many emotions darting around the home dressing-room at Windsor Park on Saturday and the Northern Ireland striker James Quinn did not deny that anger, upset and embarrassment were chief among them.

The six-game unbeaten run with which Lawrie Sanchez stabilised one of the worst records in European football was smashed to pieces in Belfast by what the manager called "silly, stupid, naive mistakes". Any repetition of the shambles against Poland will be ruthlessly exploited by a Wales side that, although underperforming in Azerbaijan on Saturday, is expected to emphasise a chasm in class and expectation.

The first five sides from all Ireland to play in Wales lost by a combined score of 34-3, including an 11-0 defeat at Wrexham in 1888 and judging by the mood of some in the home camp, they are not expecting much more resistance in the Millennium Stadium tonight. Ryan Giggs, who is suspended for this World Cup qualifier, said he would be "amazed if Wales don't win". To John Hartson, defeat would be "unthinkable".

Nevertheless, Northern Ireland are likely to be far harder to crack than they were in Belfast, mainly because of a tide of anger filtering through Sanchez's squad. "We got off to a stinking start, but what made me angry was that we could have got something out of the game," said Quinn, who has gone from being an outcast at West Bromwich Albion, to the Dutch First Division with Willem II, via a spell on loan at Bristol Rovers. His statement that: "take away the three goals and we played quite well," sounds like something that should be repeated in Private Eye, but his manager thought all the pressure tonight will rest on Welsh shoulders.

"I felt Poland at home would be our fourth-hardest game and Wales away is the fifth hardest," Sanchez said. "But Wales have started with two of the three easiest games in their group and if they get two points from two matches then they are only thinking about second place." Goals in this fixture, which has not been played since Mark Hughes scored at Swansea in 1984, tend to be at a premium. The past 17 matches involving Wales and Northern Ireland have produced a princely 20 goals - which ought to be remembered by those nostalgists pining for a return of the Home Internationals.

One of the few weaknesses in Hughes' record as Wales manager is that they have never won the second match of a double-header and the desperately weary nine hour flight after a poor performance in the Caucasus will hardly have helped their mood, especially when the players learned their bags had been rifled through at Baku Airport. They reached Cardiff at 7.30am on Sunday, four-and-a-half hours late.

Craig Bellamy, who is not a man to go for the easy platitude, thought Wales lucky to have earned even a draw in Baku while Hughes thought there might have been apprehension infecting their play. "I'm not sure the players knew what they were up against - and it was the first game of the group - but I don't think we'll have that on Wednesday night because we are facing people we know. I think Azerbaijan will get more points; what people forget is that in their last campaign they took four points from Serbia."

Hughes, like Sanchez who may drop Maik Taylor for Manchester United's reserve keeper Roy Carroll, did not rule out replacing Paul Jones, who was at fault for the Azeri goal, with Darren Ward but despite intense pressure from the Welsh public, Robert Earnshaw is likely to begin on the bench.

Many Welsh fans thought Hughes over-cautious by waiting until the last few minutes to bring Earnshaw on in Baku, although when he did the young striker, who destroyed Scotland in a friendly in February, struck the post.

Earnshaw, he argued, was still "an impact player", although his chances of starting regular internationals should be increased by his transfer from Cardiff to West Brom. "It has been quite unsettling for him, moving," said Hughes. "But playing in the Premiership will help him and it was the right time to go."

Wales (probable 4-4-1-1): Jones (Wolverhampton); Delaney (Aston Villa), Gabbidon (Cardiff), Page (Cardiff), Thatcher (Manchester City); Oster (Sunderland), Savage (Birmingham), Speed (Bolton), Koumas (West Bromwich); Bellamy (Newcastle); Hartson (Celtic).

Northern Ireland (probable 4-4-2): Carroll (Manchester United); A Hughes (Newcastle), Williams (Milton Keynes), Craigan (Motherwell), McCartney (Sunderland); Johnson (Birmingham), M Hughes (Crystal Palace), Whitley (Sunderland), Elliott (Hull); Healy (Preston), Quinn (Willem II).

Referee: D Messina (Italy).