Thursday 8 December 2016

5 talking points ahead of Northern Ireland's clash with Belarus

Published 26/05/2016 | 16:16

Will Grigg is back in the Northern Ireland squad after helping Wigan to the Sky Bet League One title
Will Grigg is back in the Northern Ireland squad after helping Wigan to the Sky Bet League One title

Northern Ireland will stage their last home friendly on Friday night before they participate in their first ever European Championship finals.

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Here, Press Association Sport looks at the key talking points ahead of Belarus' visit to Belfast's Windsor Park.

A CHANCE FOR THE FRINGE PLAYERS?

Michael O'Neill will announce his 23-man squad for France's Euro 2016 tournament on Saturday, leaving this as a final opportunity to impress for those whose inclusion their manager may be deliberating over. That means O'Neill is likely to rotate heavily during the fixture as he contemplates which five to cut from the expanded group he has assessed at training camps in Manchester and Dublin.

IS WILL GRIGG STILL ON FIRE?

Wigan striker Grigg has been recalled on the back of an impressive end-of-season run which saw him clinch the Sky Bet League One golden boot as Latics won the title. The inescapable chant which has become a viral sensation has served as inspiration, although Grigg is without a goal in his seven international appearances, the most recent of which came last May. Ahead of the Euros squad announcement, this would be a good time to terrify the Belarusian's defence.

WILL THE UNBEATEN RUN CONTINUE?

The last time Northern Ireland played in Belfast Conor Washington's first international goal earned them a 1-0 success over Slovenia that extended their unbeaten run to a record-breaking 10 games. Having won just one of O'Neill's first 18 matches in charge, this is a transformed team that has not lost since being defeated by Scotland last March. The team would dearly love to arrive at their Euro 2016 base in Lyon next Sunday on the back of a 12-match unbeaten streak.

WHAT TEST WILL BELARUS POSE?

Unlike Slovakia, the Northern Irish's opponents in Trnava next week, Belarus will not be bound for France at the start of next month having missed out in a qualifying group which featured the Slovakians, Euro 2008 and 2012 winners Spain and Ukraine, who Northern Ireland will face in their second group game. Belarus did beat Slovakia away from home, though, and have 35-year-old former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder Alexander Hleb still in their ranks.

HOW FORWARD-THINKING WILL O'NEILL BE?

Grigg, Kyle Lafferty, Washington, Jamie Ward, Josh Magennis, Billy McKay and Liam Boyce are the attacking options at O'Neill's disposal, and one, possibly two and perhaps three will almost certainly not make the plane to France. It may be a good opportunity to give Lafferty and Washington another try together up top in a 5-3-2 system. However, Grigg's form and the need to assess the fringe players may force the Northern Ireland boss to consider experimenting with his forwards.

Press Association

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