Thursday, 15 November 2007

Northern Ireland must keep eye on the ball

I don’t know about other Northern Ireland supporters, but I for one can feel the nerves jangling for Saturday’s crunch European Qualifier with Denmark. Not easing this apprehension is a tendency in the media and amongst some fans to look ahead towards the game against Spain in Gran Canaria next Wednesday.

Northern Ireland must not underestimate the task facing them on Saturday. Denmark are favourites to win the match at Windsor Park and the slightest complacency, the least inattention to these first opponents and the trip to Spain will become an irrelevance.

I’m disappointed to hear Nigel Worthington drawn in to speculations about the outcome of the group. His job is to keep his players myopically focused on the immediate hurdle ahead of them.

Worthington is missing 3 crucial players for Saturday’s game. Kyle Lafferty, who produced his best performance in the emerald green in the last game against Sweden, serves a suspension after being given an unjust yellow card in that match. Damien Johnson will miss out again due to injury and George McCartney is unavailable with damaged ligaments.

I am far from a fan of McCartney after his self-exclusion from Lawrie Sanchez’s squads and bearing in mind his idiosyncratic line in excuses for absence prior to that. The West Ham fullback did however offer a useful outlet in the Sweden game providing purposeful overlaps beyond Chris Brunt on the left flank.

Either Tony Capaldi, or preferably Johnny Evans, will deputise at left-back but it is unlikely that either will offer the penetration and crosses forthcoming from McCartney in the previous game. The responsibility to provide width will therefore fall mainly on Chris Brunt’s shoulders. This is truly the match for a talented young player to produce what he is capable of.

Brunt has a cultured left foot, but two often he is lacklustre with his crosses and fails to beat the first man. On Saturday evening that is simply not good enough. The time has come for Brunt to fulfil his potential and show himself a crucial member of the Northern Ireland midfield.

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