Northern Ireland begin life after Michael O’Neill with a tricky trip to Romania at 19:45 on Friday and they could really do with hitting the ground running ahead of next month’s Euro 2020 play-off against Bosnia.
Ian Baraclough will have very little time to get acquainted with his squad ahead of that mammoth game and will hope his side continues to display the encouraging signs it showed during last year’s Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Northern Ireland were never going to qualify outright from a group containing Germany and the Netherlands but, to their credit, they never stopped fighting and pushed Holland all the way on both occasions.
Romania, on the other hand, rarely threatened to qualify from an easier but still difficult group. Like Northern Ireland, they have a Euro 2020 play-off on the horizon and will hope to put in two solid displays before their difficult trip to Iceland next month.
Romania’s recently-appointed manager is yet to take charge of a game of any sort since taking the reins last year and will be looking to make a mark in his international managerial bow.
Mirel Radoi, like Baraclough, got the top job in his country after managing Romania’s youth sides and a combination of the two managers’ inexperience, coupled with the rustiness of both sides, should see this end in a stalemate.
Northern Ireland, under Michael O’Neill, were rarely involved in high-scoring shootouts that left supporters on the edge of their seats.
That is by no means a criticism of O’Neill or his tactics, but merely an observation that he adopted a more pragmatic approach to achieve the best possible results while playing some truly lovely football at times.
However, they only scored nine goals in eight qualifying games last year and there is little chance that we will see swashbuckling action on Friday night, especially as Ian Baraclough will be getting to know his players in a competitive arena for the first time.
Romania, on the other hand, did score a respectable 17 goals in their ten qualifying games, but Northern Ireland are so effective at stifling an opposition attack and they will struggle to find too much joy on Friday night so Under 2.5 goals looks the way to go.
The Green and White Army have a habit of going to tricky away venues and striking the first blow. In last year’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, they struck first in three of their four away games, including games against Holland and Germany.
While they wilted on both occasions and failed to record a massive upset, they did display a penchant for upsetting the apple cart.
Teams usually struggle to break down Northern Ireland’s rigid defensive shape and they have a knack of scoring from their few clear-cut opportunities.
They will be keen to show that they weren’t just a flash in the pan living off Michael O’Neill’s tutelage and will hope for a fast start again on Friday night.
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