Ian Baraclough has confirmed he will sign a new contract as Northern Ireland manager “within the next few days” after confirming his squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Lithuania and Italy at Windsor Park.
The 50-year-old, who is nearing the end of an 18-month deal he signed last summer to replace Michael O’Neill, has already received the backing of the Irish FA board despite successive defeats to Switzerland and Bulgaria that have placed their Group C campaign in jeopardy.
Baraclough, whose new deal is understood to take him up to the end of Northern Ireland’s interest in Euro 2024, said: “I expect everything to be done in the next few days. There’s no rush – I know it’s been spoken about for quite a while but everyone needs to make sure that everything is legally right.
“I’m delighted to be offered the chance to continue what we’re doing, to try to develop what we’ve already started.
“I think we’re in the early throes of the next cycle and hopefully it takes us to success in a few more qualifying competitions.”
Baraclough has handed debut call-ups to 17-year-old Nottingham Forest striker Dale Taylor and Reading goalkeeper Luke Southwood, while his 25-strong squad also sees the return of the Evans brothers Jonny and Corry after injuries.
Baraclough backed the inexperienced Taylor, who has previously featured at youth levels, to seize his chance, saying: “Dale is here for experience. He’s certainly one I was looking at at the start of the season but he got injured.
“He’s come back in now and it’s a good time to have a look at him and see how he integrates. If he takes his chance, who knows? He’s got the ability, it’s all about his attitude and the way he develops at his club that gives him this chance.”
Jonny Evans continues to battle a long-standing foot injury and will be treated with caution despite the evident talismanic qualities of the experienced Leicester defender.
“Northern Ireland without Jonny Evans is a lesser team, and we have not had him since March,” said Baraclough.
“We all know the ability of Jonny Evans and what he brings. It’s important that he’s in and around it sooner rather than later, but let’s get through this weekend’s games because we have been in this situation before.”
Preston’s Ali McCann, who missed the losses in Switzerland and Bulgaria, is back, as is Manchester United’s Ethan Galbraith who is reaping the benefit of his current loan spell with League One strugglers Doncaster.
Blackpool striker Shayne Lavery is still out due to injury while Hearts striker Liam Boyce remains unavailable for personal reasons.
Baraclough insisted he remains confident in his squad despite their recent losses, but acknowledged the importance of not overlooking the Lithuanians, the only team below them in the group, who secured their first points with a shock win over Bulgaria last month.
“Lithuania is a massive game for us,” added Baraclough. “We want to try to put to bed our disappointment from Bulgaria. You look at that game and we had a great first 50 minutes and we let it go for 20 minutes and it showed us we can get punished at this level.
“So we’ve got to make sure we start right against the Lithuanians, and then that game leads into the Italian game which will hopefully look after itself.”
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