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Ian Baraclough: 'I trust my Northern Ireland players'

Ian Baraclough: 'I trust my Northern Ireland players'
© Reuters
Captain Steven Davis stands to break Peter Shilton's British appearance record as he earns his 126th Northern Ireland cap.

Ian Baraclough said his Northern Ireland side do not need anybody to remind them of the stakes in Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria as they put plenty of pressure on themselves.

It may only be the second Group C fixture, but Baraclough has himself identified this as the sort of game where three points are a minimum requirement for his team to retain realistic hopes of reaching Qatar 2022, so he has no argument as the match is talked up.

But he insisted neither he nor his players will be paying attention to what is being said outside of the bubble.

"There is pressure on any game and we do that to ourselves," Baraclough said. "We think we're good enough, we have good enough individuals and as a collective we're a very strong group.

"When we put all that together we can test the best. We showed that for long periods against Italy.

"I trust the players."

The night will be a special one for captain Steven Davis, who stands to break Peter Shilton's British appearance record as he earns his 126th cap, but the 36-year-old said his only concern at present was the result.

"We should demand from ourselves, we should expect of ourselves, we want to be ambitious and we want to be successful," the Rangers midfielder said.

Italy v Northern Ireland – FIFA 2022 World Cup – Qualifying – Group C – Stadio Ennio Tardini
Steven Davis is set to earn his record-breaking 126th cap (Alessio Marini/PA)

"I don't have any concerns about people labelling this game a must-win.

"We want to win the game. We want to get ourselves off to a start and then try to build on it in September.

"Obviously this is a game we targeted from the start to get a win from so we're not going to shy away from that."

Northern Ireland looked strong as they had the better of the second half in last Thursday's 2-0 defeat by Italy, while a youthful side held their own for much of Sunday's 2-1 friendly loss to the United States, but on Wednesday plaudits must be turned into points.

"I've watched them at the hotel and there is a relaxed manner about them," Baraclough said of his squad.

Italy v Northern Ireland – FIFA 2022 World Cup – Qualifying – Group C – Stadio Ennio Tardini
Northern Ireland were left to rue missed chances against Italy last week (Alessio Marini/PA)

"When they're working there is an intensity about them and that's what tells me and the coaches that we've got a great group of players who are just missing the final link at the moment. That can change (quickly)."

Baraclough is yet to register a win inside 90 minutes in his 10 games to date, the only victory the penalty shoot-out win over Bosnia and Herzegovina last October, but said he was not worried given recent performances.

"If we weren't creating chances and weren't playing well, it would be something to worry about," he said.

"But in both the games we had in this camp there has been a lot to be happy about. In the games in October and November last year we played really well from tee to green, we've just not been able to finish off chances and finish off teams when we've had the chances and that can happen.

"The quicker that ends the better."

While Northern Ireland have looked good in possession, they need to sharpen up at both ends of the pitch. Niall McGinn's excellent late strike against the United States was only the seventh goal of Baraclough's tenure, while they have conceded first in eight of his 10 games.

"We haven't given ourselves as good a chance to win games simply because we haven't got that first goal," he said. "It is important.

"It's very easy to expect to just go and throw everything at the opposition and expect to break them down, but we've got to worry about the other end as well."

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