Friday 23 March 2018

Ian Baraclough basks in back-to-back wins as Northern Ireland U21s boss

Ian Baraclough has two wins from two as Northern Ireland Under-21s manager
Ian Baraclough has two wins from two as Northern Ireland Under-21s manager

Northern Ireland Under-21s are bidding for a third straight victory in Slovakia having given new boss Ian Baraclough a dream start even he did not foresee.

The age group had gone four years without winning a game before beating Estonia in Baraclough's first game in June, and they followed that up with another late winner in a success over Albania at home on Thursday night to go top of the early Euro 2019 qualification table.

The under-21s have never won three qualifiers in a row and though Baraclough knows tougher assignments now lie in wait, starting with Tuesday's game in Senica, he has been delighted with how things have gone so far.

"It's been probably better than what I expected coming into the job, if I'm honest," Baraclough said.

"Look at the character of the lads and the amount of hard work they've put in.

"Looking back at the previous two games, I think it's fully deserved. We know we've got harder games. The competition, with the likes of Spain, Iceland and Slovakia, is going to be tougher.

"To have six points on the board and be top of the group, you can't beat that."

Stoppage-time penalties from Hartlepool defender Liam Donnelly have given them the three points in each of the two fixtures, though Baraclough has been impressed with how they have coped at the other end.

The strength of Michael O'Neill's senior team is their defensive solidity and Baraclough wants to instil a similar philosophy.

"We got a clean sheet against Albania and looked solid in Estonia, that gives you a chance to win games," Baraclough noted.

"I've said to the boys I want them to create history. We've not won back-to-back games in qualifiers for a while so for them to be recognised is nice for them."

Press Association

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