It is very hard not to feel for Northern Ireland. They’re coming from somewhat of a purple patch under Michael O’Neill and while the passing of the torch to Ian Baraclough was always going to see a slump of sorts, it might have been easier to take if it was more dramatic than this.
Getting to within minutes of a penalty shootout against Slovakia to potentially land them a spot in the Euros is heart breaking. In the last number of years, you would find it hard to make a case of a nation overachieving more than Northern Ireland.
Sunday 7.45pm: Austria v Northern Ireland
Sky Sports Football
But to still maintain that level of application, minus one or two missing pieces, makes for tough viewing – and now they’ve no time to rest on it as they travel to Austria for a game they’ve no real interest in due to the emotional comedown.
They know Norway are likely to beat Romania, and a victory over the Romanians next week will see them safe anyway. They’ll probably rest players as the games directly either side of this fixture are significantly more important.
Is this a dead rubber? Maybe for one side, but that makes picking out a few bets even easier if you’re a shrewd punter.
Comfortable is the word we’ll use here because one side has a particular focus, while the other is devoid of energy, concentration and willpower. It’s also worth noting that Austria have won each of their last four international fixtures, which, given the Nations League setup, is now far bigger of a boast than it was a few years ago.
They’re a sneaky outfit, Austria. The ones you always think are a handy draw, then you go through their team and you spot that their players are probably all better technically than your own nation’s. The Switzerland of 2020, if you will. They’ll be all over Northern Ireland from the off so Half-Time Austria, Full-Time Austria feels a smart play.
One of three Austrians to float in between even money and 2/1, but he’s the most polished of the three given the circumstances. It’s likely Austria will have to play into a target man, and the six-foot-four Augsburg striker is the perfect complement for this approach.
His goalscoring record for the German side is better than one-in-four and given their recent league form, that’s quite an accomplishment. They often say that the difference makers produce in big moments. Well, in the moments where you’re expected to produce, you generally look at what’s effective rather than pretty. Don’t be surprised if Michael Gregoritsch Scores Anytime.
It hurts me more than you know to suggest this, and thankfully goal difference doesn’t count in these situations for Austria as it falls down to head-to-head, but there’s just no goals whatsoever in this Northern Irish team when they face structured opposition.
That might seem excessively cruel but unfortunately it’s true and if Austria even turn it on for a 15-20 minute spell, they could see this out quite easily and not have to post a second thought. It’s hard to see anything other than the hosts winning this comfortably so Austria (-1) on the handicap is very appealing.
Tips for Austria v Northern Ireland
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