Northern Ireland head to Oslo still in search of their first Nations League victory but they know that there are bigger fish to fry in the Slovaks next month. Despite having one eye on next month’s play-off final, Ian Baraclough will be more than aware that a defeat similar to that which was inflicted on his side last month, is far from ideal preparation. Changes are expected again as in his fifth game in charge, Baraclough looks to test the depth of his squad.
The 600-strong crowd weren’t treated to a memorable game on Sunday evening, but they were heartened by a slightly better second half. McGovern, McLaughlin, Thompson, Jones and Lafferty were given chances to impress, coming into the team, but there were limited noteworthy performances for the men in green.
Just before Northern Ireland’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Austria, Norway stormed to victory in Oslo, beating the Romanians by four goals to nil. Haaland again impressed netting a hat-trick – surely he deserves a rest on Wednesday night?
Times are quite different to the last time Northern Ireland travelled to Oslo, not least because we’re unable to provide our boisterous and effective support from the terraces. A 1-0 defeat via a Chris Brunt own goal was the result last time around as we looked ahead to a World Cup play-off, which had already been assured before kick-off.
Norway’s play-off semi final, like Northern Ireland’s, went to extra time, but they were pipped to a place in a final by Serbia who came out victorious by two goals to one. That makes their response against the Romanians even more impressive.
Our solid defensive line used to be a huge positive but Northern Ireland have now conceded two or more goals in 5 of their last 10 games. Haaland and co will be looking to make that 6 in 11 on Wednesday night. The Northern Ireland backline will be hoping that the Norweigans don’t add to the ten goals the table toppers have scored across their three Nations League games to date, making them the competition’s highest scorers.
Similarly, scoring goals away from home used to be a real problem for Northern Ireland; not in recent outings. We have scored in our last seven away fixtures, which included away trips to the Netherlands and Germany, with the last goalless outing away from Windsor Park being the friendly against the Republic of Ireland in November 2018. Whoever gets the nod up top will be looking to extend this run on Wednesday.
It will sure be tough but if Baraclough’s men can get anything out of the game, it will give the squad a confidence boost ahead of the ‘big one’ against Slovakia next month.
LAST TIME AROUND
Northern Ireland 1 (McNair)
Norway 5 (Elyounoussi, Haaland x2, Sorloth x2)
HEAD TO HEAD
Northern Ireland wins: 2
Norway wins: 8
Venue: Ulleval Stadion (28,000 – normally!)
Norway FIFA Ranking: 44
Norway Form: WLWLW
Peacock-Farrell, Smith, J. Evans, Flanagan, Cathcart, Ferguson, C. Evans, Davis, Saville, McGinn, Boyce