Northern Ireland v Israel: Five big talking points ahead of tonight’s friendly

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland will look to bounce back from their frustrating Nations League opener against Bosnia and Herzegovina when they face Israel in a friendly on Tuesday night.

Northern Ireland v Israel: Michael O’Neill will freshen team up but don’t expect wholesale changes

Here we look at five talking points ahead of the game.

Northern Ireland fans pictured at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park during Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Bosnia

Northern Ireland fans pictured at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park during Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Bosnia

MEANINGFUL FRIENDLY

The Nations League was intended to cut down the number of meaningless friendlies by replacing them with competitive fixtures, but in this case it has also put added emphasis on one of the friendlies that remains. Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to Bosnia was undoubtedly a setback for Michael O’Neill’s side, and leaves them with only one win from their last eight games. It hardly feels like a crisis but given the progress made during O’Neill’s tenure, everyone will be desperate to get a win on the board before tough trips to Austria and Bosnia in October in the next stage of the Nations League.

CUTTING EDGE

O’Neill was blessed with a choice of in-form strikers when selecting his squad, with Kyle Lafferty, Will Grigg, Liam Boyce and Josh Magennis having hit the ground running at club level. But that did not prevent Northern Ireland’s struggles in front of goal continuing on Saturday when 26 total attempts were rewarded only with Grigg’s stoppage-time strike. Bosnia defended deeply and denied Northern Ireland clear sights of goal, and Northern Ireland must take their time in crafting more clear-cut opportunities against Israel.

NO WHOLESALE CHANGES

O’Neill plans to make a number of changes to the team who played so well in a losing cause on Saturday, but is limited in what he can do, particularly in defence. Aaron Hughes has returned to Hearts with a calf problem while fellow veteran Gareth McAuley has also departed to get up to speed with Rangers, having joined last week after starting the season without a club. Corry Evans could come into the equation, with Paddy McNair also an option given his versatility.

STICKING WITH BAILEY?

O’Neill will freshen up his team where possible but it will be interesting to see what he does when it comes to selecting his goalkeeper. Bailey Peacock-Farrell made his first competitive start on Saturday but it did not go to plan as Bosnia’s decisive second goal came from a horrible mix-up involving the Leeds goalkeeper and Watford defender Craig Cathcart, with the experienced Cathcart taking full responsibility. O’Neill may still fancy giving one of his other goalkeepers some game time on Tuesday, and has insisted any decision will be made for that reason alone, and not based on performance.

PLANNED PROTESTS

There is always plenty of noise inside Windsor Park these days but there might also be some outside on Tuesday night, due to a planned protest against the fixture taking place at all. More than 6,500 people have signed a petition calling for the game to be called off in protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestine, with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement planning a protest at a local McDonald’s - a commercial partner of the Irish Football Association. The IFA has said the game will go ahead as planned.