Ian Baraclough insisted he was happy to embrace the challenge of guiding Northern Ireland into Saturday’s crunch World Cup qualifier against Switzerland while dealing with yet more injury problems.
Northern Ireland fought out a goalless draw with the Swiss in Belfast last month while without a string of regulars, and it will be a similar story in Geneva with seven players – including Jonny and Corry Evans, Ali McCann and Shayne Lavery – from the original 26-man squad having been ruled out.
Injury woes are nothing new for Baraclough, who could be forgiven for feeling he has had one hand tied behind his back for much of his reign to date, but he has not voiced any complaints.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “As a manager and coach you are always challenged either with injuries or the opposition, it can be anything.
“I have learned over the years and with experience to prepare for every eventuality so I know, naming the squad 10 days before the match, you still have club games to play and sometimes it might be best to hide under a bed for the Saturday and Sunday the weekend before an international break!
“You have got to be ready and the players that have come in are strong players, it’s their chance to step up and perform for their country.
“Clearly you would like to go with your strongest squad but that’s not always the case.”
Northern Ireland start the match three points behind Switzerland in the battle for second place in Group C – knowing a win would keep their qualifying destiny in their own hands while defeat could all but put it out of reach, leaving them six points behind with three games to play.
Baraclough’s mantra to his players this month has been “take it to November” – a message he feels is getting through.
“There has been a real focus to the group, a real intensity in training, it’s been competitive,” he said. “The players that have come in have shown me they want to be starters. It’s given us good thoughts when I come to picking the team.
“It’s exciting. You feel the focus and you feel the group are ready.”
And while this may be a pivotal game, Baraclough said there would do nothing out of the ordinary in his preparations.
“Simple messages, nothing too overcomplicated,” he said. “Nothing too Churchillian. You remind them throughout the week as you’re preparing and players know the magnitude of games.
“We know we’ve got to get a positive result. I still think there’s some tough games for both teams after this one. It’s proven there can be some surprise results.
“At this moment it’s in our hands still. If we can beat Switzerland it puts us in a good position to grab second place and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
As per Northern Ireland’s tradition, Paddy McNair will captain the side for the first time at the Stade de Geneva as the 26-year-old earns his 50th cap.
“It’s a very proud day for me and my family,” the Middlesbrough player said. “As a young Northern Ireland fan, going to all the games, I never thought one day I’d be leading out the country.
“I’m not going to change too much, it’s a great honour to be captain. I’ll just go out there and play my game and not think too much about it.”
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