Ian Baraclough admitted a 3-1 scoreline might have flattered Northern Ireland in Friday’s friendly victory over Luxembourg but praised his side’s character in fighting to the finish.
Steven Davis and Gavin Whyte struck in the 83rd and 85th minutes to give Northern Ireland the victory after Josh Magennis’ early strike had been cancelled out by Marvin Martin, with Luxembourg looking the more likely winners for much of the second half.
Baraclough will have plenty to pick out of the performance he described as a “mixed bag” as he turns attention towards Tuesday’s home match against Hungary, but Northern Ireland left the Stade de Luxembourg with confidence high again after showing a ruthless streak in front of goal.
“Did we deserve 3-1? Some people may say not but we took our chances,” Baraclough said. “We played like a team that haven’t been together for five months. Luxembourg, they’ve not been together either but they clicked straight away.
“We were a bit rusty but I’m delighted with the win. Did we deserve 3-1? Maybe not but that’s the way the games go sometimes when you don’t play well but come away with a win – maybe that’s the mark of a decent team. It shows good character.”
Northern Ireland started the match strongly, creating a string of chances as Magennis and Shayne Lavery bullied the Luxembourg defence, rewarded when Magennis stole possession from Maxime Chanot and finished from a tight angle.
But Baraclough’s men could not keep their grip on the game and Luxembourg enjoyed more of the ball and more chances – albeit without testing Conor Hazard in the first half.
“It felt like a first pre-season game,” Baraclough said. “It was frustrating that we couldn’t get things going in possession. I thought we looked solid as a back three or a back five, compact, and we made it difficult for them to get behind us. But the energy wasn’t there at times.”
After Luke Southwood came on to make his debut in goal, he was quickly pressed into action in the second half but could do nothing about Martin’s header from a corner.
Luxembourg remained on top until Baraclough made a quadruple substitution – Ciaron Brown replaced Jonny Evans, who managed an hour in defence, while Davis, Whyte and Niall McGinn all came on to have a direct impact in the winning goals.
“It was planned anyway but it probably came at the perfect time,” Baraclough said of those changes. “Jonny was going to come off after an hour, Davo was going to get half an hour, but we needed that spark of energy at that time.”
Northern Ireland took the lead when McGinn’s cross found fellow substitute Dion Charles and after the Bolton striker’s effort was blocked, Davis was on hand to poke home his 13th international goal – only David Healy and Kyle Lafferty have more for Northern Ireland now.
“I actually thought it was (George Saville) so I was delighted for him that he’d got his first goal,” Baraclough said.
“Then someone pointed out it was Davis. For a holding midfielder to find himself in the box, he just sniffs out chances because he reads the game so well. He took a chance of going in the box.
“I thought it was one of our best moves of the game. McGinn has put in an excellent ball, one of those ones that’s difficult for goalkeepers to deal with, and Davo sniffs it out at just the right time.”
Two minutes later, Whyte latched on to a long clearance and raced away to slide the ball under the goalkeeper and seal the win.
“To score three goals away from home, to be ruthless in front of goal, that’s something we’ve spoken about needing to improve on,” Baraclough said.
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