Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Time to bench Healy but Paterson on the right is a waste of time.
Nigel Worthington’s men are in Montenegro for a warm-up friendly, in advance of September’s European Championship opener against Slovenia. And warm-up is the operative word. Temperatures in Podgorica are set to soar into the mid thirties today.
The value of these type of occasions is a matter for debate. Club managers are resentful when players are taken away, in the middle of last minute preparations for the new season, and senior players often pull-out of games which are perceived to be meaningless.
Nigel Worthington will argue that it is a useful chance to blood inexperienced squad members before a qualifying campaign, where they might well be needed. It’s also an opportunity for seasoned players to get back in the international mindset, weeks before an important competitive clash.
Then there’s the little matter of Northern Ireland’s first choice centre forward pairing. It is vital that Worthington establishes, before the important action, who should partner Kyle Lafferty up front.
Incredibly, David Healy is no longer assured of his place in the team. He faces another season frozen out of top level action at Sunderland and his last heroics in a green shirt are beginning to fade ever further in the rear-view mirror of memory.
I’ve supported Healy’s claims to automatic selection in the past, but the problems of form and fitness are becoming critical. Unless he can unexpectedly break into the Sunderland team, or secure first team football elsewhere, Worthington must regard other strikers a better bet to score.
That means finding a foil for Lafferty, the most talented of Northern Ireland’s younger front-men. Martin Paterson, the Burnley forward, could well start tonight, but he has performed poorly in previous matches, hindered by the manager’s tendency to start him on the right wing.
Warren Feeney is the tried and tested option. He moved to Oldham during the summer and his goals played an important part in the World Cup qualifying series.
My fear is that Worthington will deploy Paterson wide once again and a chance will be lost to determine whether he can finally show goal-scoring form in a Northern Ireland shirt.
The Irish team is now uniquely handicapped in world football and needs no further neutering by a manager whose selections are often baffling. Any achievements, however, will be all the sweeter if FIFA’s discrimination is overcome.