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Paddy McNair confident Northern Ireland can triumph over Bulgaria

Paddy McNair confident Northern Ireland can triumph over Bulgaria
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Manager Ian Baraclough is without a victory inside 90 minutes in his 10 games in charge of the side as positive performances go unrewarded.

Paddy McNair is desperate for Northern Ireland to get back to winning ways on Wednesday night in their crunch World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria.

Manager Ian Baraclough is without a victory inside 90 minutes in his 10 games in charge of the side as positive performances go unrewarded, with the winless run increasingly a talking point at the start of a new qualifying campaign.

McNair, 25, admitted he had been spoiled by the success Northern Ireland had enjoyed for much of his international career to date as they went to Euro 2016 barely a year after his debut, and he does not want to settle for less.

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough is still awaiting his first victory
Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough is still awaiting his first victory (Niall Carson/PA)

"I was making my third or fourth appearance and we were training at Windsor Park and (Aaron) Hughesy turn around to me and said, 'Look at you coming in at the right time, going to the Euros and a brand new stadium; I went through all the bad years and you've come in and got it all!'" McNair said.

"I've loved my international career so far. Going to a major tournament, we have been a successful team.

"In the last 18 months or two years we haven't won as many games as we would have liked so hopefully on Wednesday we can get back on a winning run."

A lack of cutting edge has cost Northern Ireland as they have scored only seven goals during Baraclough's tenure, too often finding themselves chasing games.

Much was rightly made of the strong performance in the second half of Thursday's 2-0 defeat to Italy in the opening qualifier, but it only came once Northern Ireland had given themselves so much work to do.

"We have to start with high intensity; we can't start how we did against Italy," McNair added.

"The first goal is massive and I just feel like at home, in the past we've started well and not let the opposition play out from the back. If we can do that and put Bulgaria under pressure from the start it will definitely help us win the game."

McNair's versatility is a useful tool for Baraclough, who seems to have settled on a 3-5-2 formation as his preferred option.

McNair's versatility will prove valuable for Northern Ireland
McNair's versatility will prove valuable for Northern Ireland (Alessio Marini/PA)

McNair, who started his first international at centre-back on Thursday after previously playing in midfield and at right-back, likes the formation but said it only worked if the team avoided dropping too deep.

"It's crucial that the wing-backs do push on," he said. "The Italy game was a perfect example of that: in the first half we were in a back five and it was too easy for them to go from side to side.

"But in the second half I felt that we pushed up a lot more. (George Saville) was pushing onto their full-back, which got us up the pitch, and I was then going in on a midfielder, and that's the way to play it."

Though results have not been there for Northern Ireland, McNair said confidence remained high given the quality of performances.

"It's not nice not winning games, especially with what were were used to over the previous four or five years," he added.

"Wednesday is a great opportunity to put that right.

"When you look back at the Italy game, the second-half performance was very good and it does give us confidence as a squad within this group.

"If we can bring the second half performance into the game on Wednesday it should stand us in good stead."

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Friday's key events

· The athletics schedule begins, with 100m sprinter Dina Asher-Smith among the names in action on the opening day. The men's 10,000m final concludes the action, with Team GB's Sam Atkin and Marc Scott taking part in the absence of 2012 and 2016 champion Sir Mo Farah (1am-2.30pm)

· Victoria Thornley is Team GB's representative in the women's single sculls final (1.33am)
· Great Britain will be going for gold in the men's eight final (2.25am)

· Team GB duo Molly Renshaw and Abbie Wood take part in the women's 200m breaststroke final, but new Olympic record-holder Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa is the hot favourite (2.41am)
· Luke Greenbank has very realistic ambitions of picking up a medal in the men's 200m backstroke final (2.50am)
· There is also British representation in the women's 100m freestyle final, although any medal for Anna Hopkin would be a surprise (2.59am)
· With one gold and one silver already under his belt at these Games, Duncan Scott goes again in the men's 200m individual medley final (3.16am)

· Bryony Page will be looking to repeat her 2016 heroics in the women's event (5am-7.30pm)

· Bradley Forbes-Cryans will be looking to emulate Rio gold medallist Joe Clarke in the men's kayak event (6am-9am)

· The women's tournament enters the quarter-finals, with Great Britain facing Australia at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium (10am)

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