Ian Baraclough has named his first squad of 2021 for the fixtures against Italy, the USA and Bulgaria. There is a mixture of experience and fresh faces as we look to make a positive start to the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign.

The headline news was the inclusion of Accrington Stanley striker Dion Charles. The newcomer has scored 17 goals in League One this season. 25-year-old Charles, who qualifies for Northern Ireland through his grandmother, has made three appearances for our Under-21s. He makes up the otherwise familiar attacking options for Baraclough with Lafferty, Boyce, Whyte and Washington all in the 26-man squad.

With Michael McGovern and Trevor Carson ruled out with injury, Derry City’s Nathan Gartside gets his first call-up to the senior squad. Whilst Bailey Peacock-Farrell is likely to retain the number one jersey in the qualifying fixtures, Conor Hazard will be hoping to feature at least against the USA.

Baraclough’s defensive selections are full of international experience with Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart likely to be favoured in the centre of defence, with the more youthful options of Daniel Ballard and Ciaron Brown available if required. Stuart Dallas and Jamal Lewis, both regulars in the Premier League now, are the likely full-back picks, with the ever-dependable Conor McLaughlin and Shane Ferguson being more than capable understudies. 

Into midfield, there are four squad members playing their trade in the English Championship, four in the Scottish Premiership and one in the Scottish Championship. Skipper Steven Davis will be keen to continue his good form having recently been part of securing Rangers’ 55th league title. The inexperienced Ali McCann and Matty Kennedy, along with Niall McGinn, who was called up late due to an injury to Jordan Jones, make up the Scottish Premiership contingent. Michael Smith of Hearts is a versatile option and listed in the press release as a midfielder.

Paddy McNair, George Saville and Jordan Thompson have all been in favour at their Championship clubs, whilst on the other hand, Corry Evans has had to make-do with a stop-start season due to injury and therefore will be hoping to build some game time ahead of the internationals. 

The first international break is a triple header; something which we will have to get used to again in September. On Thursday 25th March, we will make the tough trip to Parma to take on Italy. Then, three days later we face the USA in Belfast in a friendly. The likelihood is that we will use this game as an opportunity to bed in some of the more inexperienced members of the squad. Then, finally, there is an important fixture at Windsor Park against the Bulgarians, where getting points on the board will be key if we are to be in with a shout for qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

GOALKEEPERS

Bailey PEACOCK-FARRELL (Burnley)
Conor HAZARD (Celtic)
Nathan GARTSIDE (Derry City)

DEFENDERS

Jonny EVANS (Leicester City)
Craig CATHCART (Watford)
Conor McLAUGHLIN (Sunderland)
Jamal LEWIS (Newcastle United)
Daniel BALLARD (Blackpool – loan)
Ciaron BROWN (Cardiff City)

NOT QUITE SURE IF WE’RE DEFENCE OR MIDFIELD

Stuart DALLAS (Leeds United)
Shane FERGUSON (Millwall)
Paddy McNAIR (Middlesbrough)
Michael SMITH (Heart of Midlothian)

MIDFIELDERS

Steven DAVIS (Rangers)
Corry EVANS (Blackburn Rovers)
George SAVILLE (Middlesbrough)
Matty KENNEDY (Aberdeen)
Jordan THOMPSON (Stoke City)
Niall McGINN (Aberdeen)
Ali McCANN (St Johnstone)

FORWARDS

Kyle LAFFERTY (Kilmarnock)
Josh MAGENNIS (Hull City)
Conor WASHINGTON (Charlton Athletic)
Liam BOYCE (Heart of Midlothian)
Gavin WHYTE (Hull City – loan)
Dion CHARLES (Accrington Stanley)