Northern Ireland Under-21s manager Ian Baraclough believes his side’s Euro 2019 qualifying campaign should be seen as a success regardless of how it ends on Tuesday.
Victory against Slovakia at Windsor Park would give Baraclough’s side an outside shot of clinching a play-off place depending on results elsewhere.
“We’ve had some fantastic results along the way but surely none better than our win in Spain.”Ian Baraclough
Slovakia are one point ahead of Northern Ireland in second place in the group, with both sides hopeful of reaching the play-offs as one of the four best runners-up.
Northern Ireland have reached this point thanks to five wins in nine games and Baraclough is proud of how far his team have come.
“When taking the job in May of last year, I don’t think any of us envisaged that we would be playing our final fixture and still having a chance of qualifying through the play-offs,” he said.
Baraclough has overseen six wins, two draws and two defeats in his 10 games in charge, with the highlight last month’s 2-1 away win in Spain.
Baraclough pointed to that result and the way his team then handled themselves in last week’s must-win game against Iceland in Reykjavik - won 1-0 thanks to Daniel Ballard’s last-minute header - as things Northern Ireland can build on whether they qualify or not.
“We’ve had some fantastic results along the way but surely none better than our win in Spain,” he said.
“To take a deserved 2-0 lead after eight minutes was a dream start for us and one that we had to defend for our lives when the Spaniards, boasting a team full of LaLiga players, threw everything at us.
“It will be a night that all of the players and staff will remember for a very long time.”
Baraclough has also seen Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Jamal Lewis and Gavin Whyte graduate to the senior team with no drop off in results.
“I feel there are a few more that have the capability to follow them in the coming years,” Baraclough said.