NI boss Ian Baraclough selects mix of youth and experience for two friendlies

Northen Ireland v Bulgaria – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group C – Windsor Park
(Image credit: Brian Lawless)

Chelsea defender Sam McClelland and Liverpool’s Conor Bradley have been handed their first senior Northern Ireland call-ups as manager Ian Baraclough looks to a mix of youth and experience for friendlies against Malta and Ukraine.

The teenagers are included in a 25-man squad for the trip, but the likes of skipper Steven Davis and vice-captain Jonny Evans are among those afforded a rest at the end of the season.

There are still plenty of familiar faces, however, with Leeds’ Stuart Dallas, Kilmarnock’s Kyle Lafferty and Middlesbrough’s Paddy McNair making the trip as part of an experienced core.

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Northern Ireland have travelled to Austria where they will face Malta in Klagenfurt on Sunday. The fixture, which replaced a friendly against Turkey which was cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions, has been moved forward a day to Sunday evening to comply with FIFA regulations.

The team will then travel to Dnipro to face Euro 2020-bound Ukraine next Thursday.

Baraclough will be keen to use the trip to assess his squad before the World Cup qualifiers resume in September, and is looking to expand his options as he bloods more youngsters.

McClelland, 19, has been a regular for Chelsea’s under-23s this term, and the Coleraine-born centre-half has previously represented his country at under-19 and under-17 level.

Bradley, who has been playing at under-23 level for the Reds, captained Northern Ireland Schoolboys to the Victory Shield in 2018 and has also played for the country’s under-17s.

Northen Ireland v Bulgaria – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group C – Windsor Park

Captain Steven Davis is among the senior players allowed a rest at the end of the season (Brian Lawless/PA)

They are two of three uncapped players in the squad, along with Liverpool goalkeeper Liam Hughes, who was in the group in March for the qualifiers against Italy and Bulgaria, plus the friendly against the United States.

Accrington striker Dion Charles, who made his friendly against the Americans, retains his place, as does Linfield striker Shayne Lavery, fresh from becoming the first player to be named Ulster Footballer of the Year and Young Player of the Year in the same season.

There is a return for Rangers winger Jordan Jones following his loan at Sunderland, while Paul Smyth, who is out of contract at QPR this summer, is also back.

Hearts striker Liam Boyce, who missed the March fixtures for personal reasons, returns to the fold.

Goalkeepers: Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Burnley), Conor Hazard (Celtic), Liam Hughes (Liverpool).

Defenders: Craig Cathcart (Watford), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Paddy McNair (Middlesbrough), Daniel Ballard (Arsenal – on loan at Blackpool), Ciaron Brown (Cardiff), Sam McClelland (Chelsea), Conor Bradley (Liverpool).

Midfielders: Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), George Saville (Middlesbrough), Jordan Thompson (Stoke), Alistair McCann (St Johnstone), Alfie McCalmont (Leeds), Jordan Jones (Rangers), Gavin Whyte (Cardiff), Ethan Galbraith (Manchester United).

Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Kilmarnock), Josh Magennis (Hull), Liam Boyce (Hearts), Shayne Lavery (Linfield), Dion Charles (Accrington), Paul Smyth (QPR).

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