Northern Ireland fans probably deserve the summer off after the disastrous Carling Nations Cup campaign, but no such luck I'm afraid. Nigel Worthington named his latest squad today, ahead of the Euro 2012 qualifier against the Faroe Islands, scheduled for August 10th.
To be fair to the manager it is a fairly adventurous selection. He names six forwards in the 23 man panel. David Healy is back in the frame, Burnley’s Martin Paterson gets a recall and Jamie Ward, the Derby County striker who secured a permanent move from Sheffield United last season, has finally made a breakthrough to the senior set-up.
Another new face is James McClean, who has attracted the attention of a host of English clubs, playing for Derry City in the League of Ireland. There is a suspicion that he has been promoted too early, with the threat of FAI poaching in mind, but Pat McCourt and Niall McGinn graduated successfully from the Brandywell to become influential full internationals.
In the normal course of events Northern Ireland would be expected to beat the Faroe Islands. Indeed if the home team plays positively, 3 points will certainly be secured. On the other hand, Brian Kerr has forged the Faroese into a capable unit and another lacklustre display will mean Worthington’s side struggles.
That means that there’s a premium on forward thinking players. When Northern Ireland is in possession the ball has to be moved quickly, with intent. Perhaps a raw, young winger mightn’t be the worst choice.
The difficulty is that, although I’m not discouraged by Nigel Worthington’s squad, I still firmly believe that the personnel are not Northern Ireland’s major problem.
Our panel will always be a bit threadbare and I don’t buy the argument that there are many alternatives which would revitalise the team overnight. The problem, in my view, is the style of play. It’s too slow, it’s too ponderous, the ball is moved constantly sideways and backwards.
Too often, I suspect, a few turgid, pointless passes in the opening twenty minutes are mistaken for possession football. Northern Ireland has always needed to defend in numbers and soak up pressure. Defensiveness in that sense is not a problem.
It's the lack of another gear, the lack of any intent when the team does have the ball - that’s the problem.
With the best will in the world, I don’t see how that’s going to be turned round simply by selecting more strikers in the squad. The entire system has to be revisited and the coaching changed accordingly. That means a different manager.
It certainly wouldn't guarantee instantly better results, but at least Northern Ireland could give it a go and boy would it be an improvement for the fans who have watched some tedious displays in recent years.