Northern Ireland defender Tom Flanagan has insisted the side are fully behind Ian Baraclough and believes they can thrive under him, despite unrest from fans at Windsor Park over the managerial position in the 2-1 win on Saturday against Kosovo.
efore Northern Ireland made a late comeback with goals from substitute Gavin Whyte and Josh Magennis and celebrated their first Nations League triumph at the 15th attempt, some fans in the Kop chanted ‘We want Bara out’, as was the case with Northern in June Ireland suffered a nightmare of results.
The injury-time win over Kosovo eased some of the pressure on Baraclough, but for many fans the jury remains divided on him, with some still believing he should be dropped after tomorrow’s away game in Greece.
Those angry voices will be louder when Northern Ireland finish bottom in League C, which is still possible after Saturday’s success as minnows Cyprus joined them with five points after a surprise 1-0 win over group winners Greece.
Should Baraclough’s men finish bottom of the table, they face a relegation play-off to avoid slipping to the bottom tier and would be placed in pot five in next month’s Euro 2024 qualifying draw.
There has been some speculation that certain Northern Ireland players are not enthusiastic about Baraclough’s rule, but Shrewsbury Town’s Flanagan, who played alongside Jonny Evans and Paddy McNair in a three-man defense against Kosovo, says the manager has full support .
Flanagan told the Belfast Telegraph: “Ultimately he is our manager and whoever is in charge, we will give 100 per cent.
“We all have a lot of respect for him. He works really hard on the training ground and when you see someone working as hard as he does you want to repay it, so I don’t think there are any questions from anyone in the squad. We’ We’re all definitely behind him and we know we can do it.
“It’s not like club football where managers come and go. We play for our country. We’re proud of it. It’s more than just the manager… we all represent the whole country. I don’t think there are any questions from the group about this or we look at each other.”
The 30-year-old former Sunderland ace added that the compacted nature of the quadruple header in June, which saw defeats against Greece and Kosovo and two draws against Cyprus, was tough on the side, but stressed it was showing their true colors had shown and fighting spirit at Windsor Park over the weekend.
“This campaign was a little forced by what happened over the summer,” Flanagan said.
“Having four games was quite unprecedented and a lot has been said lately but I think as a group we know where we are and what we are capable of and we showed that against Kosovo on Saturday.
“Maybe we weren’t quite there in the first half, but we showed what we’re capable of in the second half.
“After losing 1-0 we huffed and huffed but came in at half-time and he (Baraclough) said some really good things and we carried on in the second half.
“Obviously they had a few counterattack chances but I think that shows how hard we pushed forward and really pushed them to the back and finally it paid off for us with the late goals.”
It will be fascinating to see how Baraclough’s tactics and selections approach the game against Greece given the strength of substitutes Whyte and Shayne Lavery in attack.
Despite losing to Cyprus, Greece have conceded more clean sheets (12) and fewer goals (7) than any other side in the three editions of the Nations League.
Baraclough likes a back three so Flanagan, McNair and Evans, who will be playing for their 100th cap, could be called up again to play together.
The squad traveled to Athens on Sunday and will train tonight ahead of Tuesday’s game.
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sport/football/international/northern-ireland-can-still-be-a-success-under-ian-baraclough-believes-confident-defender-tom-flanagan-42016154.html Northern Ireland can still be a success under Ian Baraclough, believes confident defender Tom Flanagan