AFTER two qualifying defeats in a week, Northern Ireland’s players accept their Euro 2012 dreams are over, but have defended under-pressure manager Nigel Worthington.
A morale-sapping 4-1 loss in Estonia on Tuesday night followed a 1-0 reverse against Serbia at Windsor Park, leaving Worthington’s side fifth in Group C and at their lowest ebb of the campaign.
While not mathematically out of the race for second, with only two games to go – and one of those away to group winners Italy – the qualifying round is heading for a disappointing conclusion.
Although the last two results have been down almost entirely to individual errors – Steven Davis guilty against Serbia, while Lee Camp and Gareth McAuley both had nightmares in Tallinn – Worthington is sure to feel the heat in the coming weeks.
He was heckled by a section of the 1,200-strong Northern Ireland support at the Le Coq Arena and, with his contract up at the end of the campaign, he cannot afford displays like Tuesday’s.
Yet, although his squad are frustrated by recent events, they are not eager to join former boss Lawrie Sanchez, who has turned on Worthington and said he would like to return to the post.
Captain Aaron Hughes said: “Personally, I think the criticism (of Worthington) can be unfair – we don’t set out to be negative. Mistakes cost us and we all have to take responsibility for that.”