Doctors do not generally give great credence to mooted ‘miracle cures’ or non medical interventions. Often they explain supposed success for such methods by pointing out that people simply do not stay sick indefinitely, they get better, or regress to the mean. The reverse is also true. If someone is feeling unusually buoyant, healthy, full of beans, they will return to a more stable plane. Normal service will resume. Such appears to be the case with the Northern Ireland football team.
After three years of extraordinary results, optimism and confidence, the international side has regressed to its mean of mediocrity. What is more, the manager, Nigel Worthington, appears quite happy to allow this regression to continue unabated. He believes Northern Ireland played well on Saturday night, as the team slumped to an abject 2-0 defeat against indifferent opposition.
Admittedly Maribor was not an easy place to secure three points. The Slovenes kicked, hacked, shoved and elbowed Northern Ireland players for the duration of the match. In particular, Healy and Lafferty were subject to brutal treatment from the opening moments. Purportedly the unfriendly atmosphere was exacerbated as missiles reined down from the stands on the men in green. And then there was the referee, as inept a figure as I have seen officiate at international level for quite some time.
Despite the unpleasantness, there was simply no excuse for the Ulstermen to return empty handed. Slovenia, like Slovakia before them, are a poor side. It took Northern Ireland only five minutes to establish parity of possession. Although the imbecile referee declined to award Slovenia a fairly obvious penalty in the first half, they otherwise rarely threatened Northern Ireland, until 84 minutes and their opening goal.
But what did Worthington’s team create with their possession? Next to nothing. Once again the wide players were ineffective. Healy was kicked into submission early on and it was left to Lafferty, carrying a back injury, to offer any threat up front. He tried his best, but had little support from his team-mates.
Northern Ireland’s World Cup campaign is over. Make no mistake about it. The most galling aspect of this failure is that Lawrie Sanchez, the man who instilled confidence, belief and positivity into the team is watching each match from the Setanta Sports’ studio as an analyst, when he should be managing the team instead of Nigel.