Belief is still high says Conor Washington

Conor Washington insists Northern Ireland remain full of belief despite recent frustrations as they face a 'must-win' trip to Lithuania on Thursday night in their World Cup qualifying campaign.

By Sports Desk
Wednesday, 1st September 2021, 1:00 pm

The 3-0 friendly win over Malta in May was Northern Ireland's first victory inside 90 minutes since 2019, with Ian Baraclough's only competitive victory in charge being the penalty shoot-out success over Bosnia and Herzegovina in October last year.

They head to Vilnius with one point from their opening two qualifiers in March, having drawn 0-0 with Bulgaria in Belfast after an opening 2-0 defeat to an Italy side who would soon be crowned European champions, and already need to make up ground before facing Switzerland at home next week.

"If we want to do anything in the group we can’t shy away from the fact that we do need to go to places like this and win games of football," said Washington, back in the squad for the first time since November at a time when Liam Boyce and Josh Magennis are missing.

Northern Ireland striker Conor Washington

"We don’t want to try to play that down. We have got to accept that pressure and try turning it into a positive thing, that we’re in a position now as a nation that we’re expected to go to these places and win."

Washington sat out the March qualifiers through injury, but saw enough in the performances to assure him some positive results are just around the corner.

"Obviously I watched the games from home but I thought there were some really good performances, especially the latter part of the Italy game," the Charlton striker said. "That was much more what we had been doing and what we were working towards.

“You have to feel for the gaffer a bit because the situation he came into after Michael (O’Neill) was obviously a tough one. It’s not like we’ve had San Marino or Malta, we’ve had really tough, competitive games where teams are looking to qualify for tournaments.

“I don’t think confidence has taken a knock. We all believe in ourselves, especially with the younger lads coming through as well.

“The DNA since I’ve been here and been part of the camps is that we’re going to be very resolute and solid and then we need to be ruthless on the counter-attack.

“It’s something that suits a lot of us. I don’t think we’re far away and the performances have definitely shown that.”

Having used the June friendlies against Malta and Ukraine to blood some youngsters, Baraclough has named a near full-strength squad for these qualifiers, which come either side of a friendly against Estonia on Sunday.

But though the likes of Washington, Steven Davis and Jamal Lewis are back, vice-captain Jonny Evans is out through injury.

Dan Ballard will be asked to fill the void and build on some strong performances in the summer.

“There are always going to be injuries, players won’t always be available," said the 21-year-old, who is on loan at Millwall from Arsenal.

"It’s a good opportunity to step up and take more responsibility, try and help the team as much as possible when great players aren’t available.

"Maybe that’s something that the team has to deal with, we’ll all have to step up that little bit extra and help towards getting a result."