Thursday night signifies the biggest game for Northern Ireland since the narrow play-off defeat to Switzerland in Basel three years ago. The squad is much the same but can we foster a different result this time around? It’s a big night for Ian Baraclough too. In just his sixth game in charge, he could become just the fourth manager in history to take us to a major championship – Doherty, Bingham and O’Neill being the other successful managers – although Michael O’Neill would have to take some credit if Baraclough’s squad got over the line on Thursday night, it would be an exceptional achievement nonetheless.
Baraclough’s five games in charge to date have been a mixed bag – that is probably putting it mildly! Things looked promising after an impressive draw away to Romania after playing most of the game with 10 men in October. Then Haaland blew our defence away in Belfast; the less said about that, the better. Fast forward a month and we have that memorable penalty shootout win in Sarajevo.
Two narrow 1-0 defeats followed… and it could have been worse against the Austrians in Belfast, but we were unlucky in Oslo. A promising performance, but still no wins in the UEFA Nations League. Everyone – players, management, fans – will agree that none of that matters as long as the 1,060 Green and White Army witness a win at Windsor Park on Thursday.
To the green bit – a tight game is predicted, with Slovakia too coming into the game with a similar run of form. In the last international break, Slovakia overcame the Republic of Ireland in a penalty shootout in the play-off semi-final, before losing to Scotland and Israel in the UEFA Nations League.
Since the last international break, there has been a switch in the managerial seat. Pavel Hapal has been replaced by Stefan Tarkovic – a man who is no stranger to the Slovakian set-up, or major championships, having been part of the coaching team for Slovakia at Euro 2016.
The main battle on the pitch is likely to come in the middle of the park as the captains face up. Both Davis and Hamsik are record cap holders for their countries and it may well be a battle that is pivotal to the outcome of the game.
Baraclough is expected to name a similar team to that which was victorious in Sarajevo last month. There will be at least one change with Corry Evans ruled out due to injury. There was good news for Baraclough though as Jonny Evans played the full 90 minutes for Leicester City at the weekend, signifying that he should be fit enough to play in this key game.
For a more in-depth look at the Slovakia squad, check out our detailed squad profile at:
It’s another big night at Windsor and it’s a huge shame that more of the GAWA can’t be there to witness, hopefully, another historical night. However, we can’t be too mad, as the only home nation with fans in attendance at any of their games this international break, we hope that the 1,060 will make all the difference.
Match previews for the UEFA Nations League games against Austria and Romania will follow.
LAST TIME AROUND
Northern Ireland 0
Friendly (Trnava) 4th June 2016
HEAD TO HEAD
Northern Ireland wins: 1
Slovakia wins: 2
Venue: Windsor Park (1,400 out of 18,500)
Slovakia FIFA Ranking: 37
Slovakia Form: LLDDL
Peacock-Farrell, Dallas, Cathcart, J.Evans, Lewis, Saville, Davis, McNair, McGinn, Washington, Magennis