Does it seem wilfully perverse to suggest that the most useful lesson Nigel Worthington might have learned from last night’s Israel friendly could prejudice selection of Northern Ireland’s goalscorer, Grant McCann?
The match finished 1-1 after McCann put the home team into an early lead courtesy of a subtly crafted left foot free kick. Yet it is becoming increasingly apparent that accommodating the Scunthorpe player’s goal-threat, as part of a central pairing, involves weakening the spine of the Northern Ireland team.
I don’t for a moment wish to imply that the midfielder does not offer his manager a valuable option. Last night we witnessed the precision which he can achieve with his left boot and his late, timely attacking runs are not matched by either Sammy Clingan or Steven Davis.
However the Clingan / Davis partnership provides Northern Ireland with competitive bite and the ability to retain possession. It is my opinion that we cannot afford, especially playing away from home, to line up under strength in the centre of midfield.
Of course the manager could opt to accommodate McCann on the left, probably to the exclusion of Chris Brunt, or he might resurrect the unpopular notion of one up front, deploying McCann in a supportive role.
My suspicion is, that even should Davis and Clingan form Northern Ireland’s midfield partnership in games to come, Damien Johnson (from the right) will be required to play narrower than he has in recent games, in order to support his central colleagues, simply because we face quality opposition.
Last night Niall McGinn demonstrated that he can operate as an effective orthodox winger, so Worthington might feel that using the Celtic man could take the onus off Johnson to provide width and make best use of his combative style.
Although the home games against Slovenia and Israel yielded a vital win and a creditable draw, there have been signs that our midfield is not especially competitive. During both matches the away sides enjoyed long, unchallenged periods of possession. Against more capable players, any weakness will be fully exploited.
Central midfield is the beating heart of a football team. Nigel Worthington must choose his best combination in those positions and accommodate other talents around his side’s locus. That, to my mind, means playing McCann on the left, or not at all.