Ian Baraclough suggested he may draft reinforcements into his Northern Ireland squad for Sunday’s friendly against Estonia as he looks to wrap others in cotton wool ahead of next week’s World Cup qualifier against Switzerland
A 4-1 win over Lithuania on Thursday night breathed new life into Northern Ireland’s qualifying campaign and, if the Swiss lose to Italy on Sunday, Baraclough’s side will head into Wednesday’s match at Windsor Park with a chance to go second behind the European champions in Group C.
The win in Vilnius came despite the absence of Jonny Evans, Stuart Dallas, Corry Evans, George Saville and Josh Magennis, and with the squad already stretched Baraclough could no doubt do without Sunday’s trip to Tallinn
Instead he must manage the resources he has, but he was clear what he would like to do with the players he has in mind to start next week.
“We can have six days rest for the majority of the players,” Baraclough said.
“It allows us to play players in the squad who don’t always get game time, that means more young players coming into the team and gaining more experience.
“We’re going to Estonia which we know is a good stadium, a decent pitch and a good atmosphere and that gets them experience they require so that when they’re asked to go and play a qualifier it feels normal to them and they’re not overawed.
“We’ll look forward to going to Estonia. We need to make sure we rest and recover those we need to for the Switzerland game. We’ve got a small squad, down on numbers and we may have to call up a couple into the squad.”
One senior player who is now likely to be involved in Tallinn is Paddy McNair, who will miss the Switzerland game through suspension after being booked for conceding a penalty in Lithuania.
That moment gave the hosts the chance to draw level after Rolandas Baravykas’ emphatic strike in response to goals from Daniel Ballard and Conor Washington, but Bailey Peacock-Farrell saved Arvydas Novikovas’ spot-kick before Shayne Lavery and McNair put the game beyond doubt.
Though a raft of senior players were missing, Lavery and Ballard were not the only youngsters to impress as 21-year-old Ali McCann again looked accomplished in midfield.
At the other end of the age scale, there was another fine performance from captain Steven Davis, back in the squad after sitting out the summer friendlies.
“He was class in the middle of the park,” Baraclough said. “At times when it needed to be calmed down he is able to put his foot on the ball, he is able to dictate where the ball goes, and get it away from the press very quickly.
“He’s 36 years of age but in the 90th minute he’s flying up the left-hand side trying to dribble around three or four players. We lose it and give away a chance, and who’s one of the first midfielders to get back? Steven Davis.
“He’s not a (normal) 36-year-old. I’m sure he’s got many more games to go in him. He’s a great character, very down to earth and he’s my captain for a reason.”