My personal trip to Serbia turned into something of an epic, thanks to travel complications. Via seven airports, five delays and six flights, though, I finally made it back. Tonight it’s Northern Ireland vs. Slovenia in a match which could signal a premature end to our qualification hopes.
The match in Belgrade posed more questions about Nigel Worthington’s future. Fans questioned his choice of personnel before the game had even started, but it was the tactical decisions (or lack thereof) during play which were fatal.
Northern Ireland took a 1-0 lead, after unexpectedly dominating the first half. Rather than press home the advantage the team reverted to the slow, negative approach which the manager so clearly favours.
Worthington was unfortunate that Lafferty had to be replaced by David Healy at half-time. But he chose not to give the striker more support and he refused to make changes as his players became pinned back by wave after wave of Serbian attacks.
In the end the 2-1 defeat seemed inevitable. The younger players whom Worthington had selected drifted out of the game badly, but the manager let them struggle on regardless. It was the classic example of a team without any plan B.
That will be a problem again at Windsor Park. Already it looks likely that Northern Ireland will line up looking desperately lightweight up front. Warren Feeney is expected to start and although he has showed excellent work-rate and an eye for goal in the past, his career and fitness are both in doubt. As a lone striker graft on its own is not likely to be enough.
During Slovenia’s last visit to Windsor Park the visitors dominated the match, but failed to show a cutting edge. Likewise, in Maribor last Autumn, the Slovenes squandered chance after chance and succumbed to a late Corey Evans goal.
Northern Ireland must hope that their luck against Slovenia holds. It’ll probably be another dour performance and the best we can hope for is a scrambled goal and lots of last gasp defending.