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Ian Baraclough wants Northern Ireland team to play without fear

Northern Ireland v Austria – UEFA Nations League – Group 1 – League B – Windsor Park
(Image credit: Liam McBurney)

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough admitted his side suffered from a “fear factor” in Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat to Austria.

The Green and White Army could not follow up Thursday’s penalty shoot-out win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Euro 2020 qualifying play-off semi-final as their Nations League woes continued at Windsor Park.

Michael Gregoritsch’s first-half header proved the difference, though in truth it could have been many more as Austria repeatedly carved open Northern Ireland in the first half before things improved for the hosts after the break.

Baraclough made five changes – bringing in goalkeeper Michael McGovern alongside Kyle Lafferty, Gavin Whyte, Conor McLaughlin, and Jordan Jones – to freshen things up, but it was ultimately a flat performance and the manager was left urging his players to take more risks.

“Whoever comes in has to be aware, they’re not going to get a hard time from me if they lose possession in trying to do the right thing,” he said.

“We want players to go out with no fear to make a mistake. So what? Work hard and get back. There probably was a bit of a fear factor for some reason, until the second half when you’re one down and chasing the game. Go on, get at them, get the first pass off, be positive.

“In the first half I thought we went too long, too early at times as a get out. It was a difficult one for ‘Laff’ to get a hold of the ball and then they were winning it around the halfway line and it didn’t allow us to get out of our own half.”

Defeat means Northern Ireland have now lost six of their seven games in the still relatively short history of the Nations League – and three of those have been against Austria.

Baraclough is also still awaiting his first win at Windsor Park, but though Sunday night was a disappointment in the wake of what went before, there is no mistaking which result mattered more.

Jordan Jones have now lost three times to Austria in the Nations League

Jordan Jones have now lost three times to Austria in the Nations League (Liam McBurney/PA)

This international window was always all about the game in Bosnia, just as the play-off final against Slovakia is already looming large even before this month’s fixtures are completed.

Changes were inevitable after 120 minutes and penalties in Sarajevo 72 hours earlier, but Baraclough said he was wary of making too many as it would lead to a disjointed performance.

With Norway – 5-1 winners in Belfast last month – next up on Wednesday night in Oslo the manager will need to look to his squad once again.

Northern Ireland v Norway – UEFA Nations League – Group 1 – League B – Windsor Park

Norway beat Northern Ireland 5-1 in Belfast last month (Liam McBurney/PA)

“We need to make decisions going into the Norway game on who we put in, who we rest, who we leave out to try to freshen it up again,” he said.

“For the lads that come in, it’s not easy. I want to see players perform, I want to see players within the group.

“I’m still learning about the group. There were good performances in there. It wasn’t a total failure. I’ve learned a lot more about a lot of individuals.”