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It’s noise in the background – Ian Baraclough not interested in critics

Northern Ireland v Italy – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group C – Windsor Park
(Image credit: Liam McBurney)

Ian Baraclough insisted he was paying no attention to his critics as Northern Ireland’s long-running struggles in the Nations League come under increasing scrutiny.

Having suffered relegation to League C, Northern Ireland started this campaign as top seeds in Group 2 but they still cannot buy a win, with a defeat and a draw so far making it 12 games without victory in the competition.

From the heat of Cyprus where Sunday’s goalless draw brought boos from travelling fans, Northern Ireland have moved to Kosovo where storm clouds are gathering – with one downpour drenching the players as they trained on Wednesday night.

They will go into Thursday’s match in Pristina with a number of fans questioning Baraclough as frustration from Sunday’s drab goalless draw in Larnaca remains fresh.

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“I’m not on social media, I don’t read the papers,” Baraclough said. “I concentrate on what I can do to improve things.

“If I was more focused on what was being said about me, I don’t think I’d be doing my job properly. For me, it’s noise in the background.”

Baraclough, approaching two years in the job, still has only three competitive wins from 18 matches, but insisted he remains the right man for the job.

“I’ve got confidence we are on the right track,” the 51-year-old said.

“I knew taking the job it wouldn’t all be plain sailing and I’m confident that we can go through and build from this Nations League and put together a really good series of games in the Euros – that’s the end goal we’re looking at, to qualify for the Euros.

Greece celebrate

Northern Ireland lost to Greece last week (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It’s not where we are now, let’s look at where we are at the end of the Euros.

“We’re not going to go off track, rip up the paper and start again. We’re going through a tough time at the moment but confidence is there and the belief is there.”

Northern Ireland fans have long supported their team through thick and thin, but there were some boos at the final whistle in the 1-0 home defeat to Greece, and more among the 600 travelling fans in Cyprus.

“I can totally understand and we can understand as a group that fans are frustrated, not getting the result and not seeing the team play to the best of their ability all the time,” Baraclough added.

“Certainly, coupled with spending money on travelling abroad and following the group, we don’t take that for granted as a group of people.

“There is just as much frustration within the dressing room, I can assure you, as there is on the terraces.

“We hope to give them something to smile about and shout about from tomorrow night.”

Northern Ireland’s last two games were plagued by disjointed play, too many mis-placed passes and mis-timed runs as players rusty from a few weeks off tried to get to grips with new partnerships in a much-changed squad missing a string of players.

Baraclough pointed out there is no quick fix for that, though he hopes the rest day afforded to players on Monday – when they were given free time in Cyprus and the match was not discussed – has helped the squad develop stronger bonds.

The rain in Pristina might also be more preferable than the baking temperatures of Larnaca, which no doubt contributed to Northern Ireland’s performance.

“I think there’ll be renewed energy,” Baraclough said. “Looking back at the game (in Cyprus) it could be talked about as being flat.

“I didn’t realise how the heat would affect people. I’m not one for making excuses but when players are losing three to three and a half kilos, that tells you a big thing about the night.

“The lads couldn’t get their breathing and they aren’t used to playing in that heat.”

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