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NI mindset unaffected by potential Nations League relegation – Ian Baraclough

Austria v Northern Ireland – UEFA Nations League – League B – Group 1 – Ernst Happel Stadion
(Image credit: Florian Schrotter)

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough insisted the uncertainty over his side’s potential relegation in the Nations League would not affect their mindset ahead of Wednesday’s match against Romania.

The cancellation of Romania’s fixture against Norway on Sunday due to a positive coronavirus test within the Norwegian camp has thrown a wrench into the Group B1 equation ahead of the final round of fixtures.

Romania are expected to be handed over a walkover win by UEFA’s disciplinary body – a decision which would condemn Northern Ireland to the drop – but, although a verdict should hopefully come before kick-off, Baraclough’s side trained on Tuesday not knowing what exactly would be riding on Wednesday’s game.

Regardless of whether their fate is taken out of their hands, Northern Ireland are desperate for a win after a painful few days in which their Euro 2020 hopes were ended in extra time by Slovakia before two late goals denied them victory in Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Austria in Vienna.

“It won’t change how we go about the game,” Baraclough said. “We’ve got a game-plan, we’ve worked on stuff and we know the threats Romania will pose.

“In our mindset we are going out to win the game and that doesn’t change if we get a ruling from UEFA on the game from the other night.

“We leave that up to them; it’s something we can’t control and we go into this game positive.”

The Nations League, introduced in 2018, has never been Northern Ireland’s friend. They have drawn one and lost eight of their nine games to date – only avoiding the drop last time around thanks to a change in format – but relegation under these circumstances would represent a new low.

Northern Ireland v Slovakia – UEFA Euro 2020 – Play-offs – Final – Windsor Park

Steven Davis has withdrawn from the Northern Ireland squad for personal reasons (Brian Lawless/PA)

They will go into the game short on numbers, with Baraclough’s squad reduced to 20 by the withdrawals of Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty and Jordan Thompson on Tuesday, adding to the earlier exits of Niall McGinn and George Saville.

Davis has withdrawn for personal reasons.

The Rangers midfielder, one cap shy of Peter Shilton’s UK record of 125, will be 36 when the squad next meets up in March for the start of World Cup qualifying, but Baraclough said there was no reason to believe fans had seen the last of him in a Northern Ireland shirt.

“The only people that have mentioned stuff like that have been the media,” he said. “The conversations I’ve had with everyone in the group have been very positive.

“The lads showed character in abundance in the Austria game and the senior lads are at the front, driving it on. I don’t see anything that tells me that Steven Davis is not ready to play anymore.”

Davis’ absence could give an opportunity to the likes of Ali McCann, who made his debut on Sunday, or Manchester United’s uncapped Ethan Galbraith.

“He may well (play),” Baraclough said of Galbraith. “He’s gaining massive experience of being around these lads, training day in, day out, being part of the group. The last six months have told me that he’s grown up as an individual, grown as a player.

“Man United are really happy with his development, he’s signed a new deal. I think it’s my job to bring young players through, give them an opportunity, and see how they get on.

“Ethan is one of those, along with Ali McCann, Dan Ballard – we’ve seen that, given the chance, they are capable, but they have to go and step up.

“Hopefully one or two of them might come on in the next two or three years. There has to be that transition throughout and that is constantly happening.”