Many Northern Ireland players played their fourth game in ten days this weekend as club football returned after the international break. The games continue to come thick and fast as the late start to the season continues to impact the schedule.
Northern Ireland record cap-holder and skipper Steven Davis featured in the early kick-off in the Scottish Premiership on Saturday afternoon. A gentle fixture to ease the Gers back in after the international break – the first old firm of the season. Davis, impressively, played the full 90 minutes after featuring in all three internationals last week, as Gerrard’s men extended their lead at the top of the table. Jordan Jones was an unused substitute.
Craig Cathcart was a second half substitute as his Watford side beat Derby County 1-0 on Friday night. Jonny Evans started for Leicester in their defeat to in-form Aston Villa. Conor McLaughlin made his first start of the season for Sunderland as they beat Swindon Town 2-0 away from home. Jamal Lewis played again for Newcastle United in their 4-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester United as he continues his good start to the season for his new club. Michael Smith scored after four minutes as Hearts beat Dundee 6-2 in their first game of the season. Daniel Ballard was an unused substitute for Blackpool as they drew 1-1 at Crewe.
Corry Evans returned to the Blackburn Rovers’ starting XI for the first time in over a month after missing four games due to injury prior to the international break – they lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest. McNair and Saville remain in favour for Neil Warnock at Middlesborough, but they could not provide the cutting edge required as they drew 0-0 at home to Reading. Jordan Thompson was a second half substitute for Michael O’Neill as Stoke City beat Luton Town 2-0.
Baraclough will, of course, be keeping a close eye on the progress of all of his squad ahead of next month’s play-off final against Slovakia. However, he will be particularly interested in the form of his attacking options because arguably they are the places in the starting XI which are most up for grabs.
Josh Magennis continued his good form for Grant McCann’s Hull City side as they beat Ryan McLaughlin’s Rochdale 3-0. Magennis starred with an assist and a goal in the second half. Niall McGinn was a second half substitute for Aberdeen against Dundee United, but he could not provide the required spark as he did in Sarajevo just over a week ago, as they drew 0-0. Paul Smyth, who signed on loan for Charlton this week, went straight into the starting line-up as they beat Wigan 1-0. Interestingly, he was preferred to Conor Washington, who replaced him in the closing moments. Liam Boyce was also amongst the goals by scoring a first half penalty for Hearts on Friday night.
Lots of minutes and good form for the squad can only be good ahead of the final next month, but the Green and White Army will be keeping a close eye on the club games in the coming weeks, hoping that there will be no injuries to the squad.