Paddy McNair hopes Northern Ireland to return to winning ways against Bulgaria

Northern Ireland v Romania – UEFA Nations League – Group B1 – Windsor Park
Northern Ireland v Romania – UEFA Nations League – Group B1 – Windsor Park (PA Wire)
22:30pm, Mon 29 Mar 2021
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Paddy McNair is desperate for Northern Ireland to get back to winning ways on Wednesday night in their crunch World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria.

Manager Ian Baraclough is without a victory inside 90 minutes in his 10 games in charge of the side as positive performances go unrewarded, with the winless run increasingly a talking point at the start of a new qualifying campaign.

McNair, 25, admitted he had been spoiled by the success Northern Ireland had enjoyed for much of his international career to date as they went to Euro 2016 barely a year after his debut, and he does not want to settle for less.

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough is still awaiting his first victory (PA Wire)

“I was making my third or fourth appearance and we were training at Windsor Park and (Aaron) Hughesy turn around to me and said, ‘Look at you coming in at the right time, going to the Euros and a brand new stadium; I went through all the bad years and you’ve come in and got it all!'” McNair said.

“I’ve loved my international career so far. Going to a major tournament, we have been a successful team.

“In the last 18 months or two years we haven’t won as many games as we would have liked so hopefully on Wednesday we can get back on a winning run.”

A lack of cutting edge has cost Northern Ireland as they have scored only seven goals during Baraclough’s tenure, too often finding themselves chasing games.

Much was rightly made of the strong performance in the second half of Thursday’s 2-0 defeat to Italy in the opening qualifier, but it only came once Northern Ireland had given themselves so much work to do.

“We have to start with high intensity; we can’t start how we did against Italy,” McNair added.

“The first goal is massive and I just feel like at home, in the past we’ve started well and not let the opposition play out from the back. If we can do that and put Bulgaria under pressure from the start it will definitely help us win the game.”

McNair’s versatility is a useful tool for Baraclough, who seems to have settled on a 3-5-2 formation as his preferred option.

McNair's versatility will prove valuable for Northern Ireland (PA Wire)

McNair, who started his first international at centre-back on Thursday after previously playing in midfield and at right-back, likes the formation but said it only worked if the team avoided dropping too deep.

“It’s crucial that the wing-backs do push on,” he said. “The Italy game was a perfect example of that: in the first half we were in a back five and it was too easy for them to go from side to side.

“But in the second half I felt that we pushed up a lot more. (George Saville) was pushing onto their full-back, which got us up the pitch, and I was then going in on a midfielder, and that’s the way to play it.”

Though results have not been there for Northern Ireland, McNair said confidence remained high given the quality of performances.

“It’s not nice not winning games, especially with what were were used to over the previous four or five years,” he added.

“Wednesday is a great opportunity to put that right.

“When you look back at the Italy game, the second-half performance was very good and it does give us confidence as a squad within this group.

“If we can bring the second half performance into the game on Wednesday it should stand us in good stead.”

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