Northern Ireland face Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo on Monday in the second of two back-to-back away games in the Nations League.
Here, Football Paradise looks at five talking points ahead of the game.
Woes on the road
Northern Ireland may have lost 2-1 to Bosnia in Belfast a month ago, but they dominated the game by every other measure, having 67 per cent possession and 26 attempts at goal. But that came on home turf at Windsor Park. Away games have been a different matter, and they have now failed to score in their last five games on the road. When it came to Friday’s 1-0 loss to Austria in Vienna, Michael O’Neill was left urging his players to be braver in possession as they spent too much of the first half on the back foot. Northern Ireland can take plenty of encouragement from their last meeting with Bosnia, but must find the right balance away from home if they are to pick up their first points in the Nations League.
Relegation not a real worry?
Back-to-back defeats have left Northern Ireland facing the real threat of relegation to League C of the Nations League, and they need to win in Sarajevo to keep their fate in their own hands. But O’Neill insists that is of no real concern to him anyway, suggesting after Friday’s loss in Vienna that he is more interested in developing his team and his younger players than in prospering in this particular competition. His eyes are clearly set on next year’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, and that could have an impact on his team selections and tactics for the final two group games.
When Will Grigg injured his hamstring in the dying moments of Friday’s 1-0 defeat to Austria, it left Michael O’Neill with only two fit strikers in the squad. Liam Boyce missed the match with a knee injury, while we’ve not yet heard the end of Kyle Lafferty’s surprise withdrawal on the eve of this international window. Josh Magennis started in Vienna and will surely lead the line again in Sarajevo, while Rotherham striker Kyle Vassell – who made his debut off the bench on Friday – will likely be involved. But Michael O’Neill has also said he wants to freshen up in the wide positions, where Gavin Whyte could come in to offer another goal threat.
Peacock-Farrell gets O’Neill’s backing
Bailey Peacock-Farrell was guilty of a mental error in Vienna when he picked up a Jonny Evans backpass despite little pressure to gift Austria a dangerous indirect free-kick inside the box. The Leeds goalkeeper was also involved in the mix-up which led to Bosnia’s second goal last month, but O’Neill has given his full backing to the 21-year-old. “We can scrutinise Bailey’s performance but he’s a goalkeeper with massive potential,” O’Neill said. “I’ve seen very experienced goalkeepers do the same in a game. It’s a big learning curve for Bailey. He’s coming in, he’s still young enough to play in the U21s but he’s handled himself very well. We have to play him, we have to develop him. And that’s what we’ll do. I attach no blame to him really for anything to date. We’re very lucky to have a goalkeeper of that quality we can develop for the future.”
Green and White Army on the road
More than 2,000 Northern Ireland fans were inside the Ernst Happel Stadium on Friday, making themselves heard throughout the match, and a similar number is expected in Sarajevo on Monday. Some have travelled across the world to be here, with fans turning up from as far away as Vancouver, New Orleans and even New Zealand, suggesting Northern Ireland’s recent struggles away from home have done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the Green and White Army.
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