Kenny Shiels is more concerned with learning than result against England

Kenny Shiels has insisted he will not be paying too much attention to the scoreboard when Northern Ireland Women take on England in a friendly next week.

The match at St George’s Park on Tuesday is Northern Ireland’s only opportunity to prepare for their Euro 2022 play-off against as yet unknown opposition in April, and Shiels wants to see how his players stand up against the best.

“We’re not saying we can go and beat England,” Shiels said. “We’re saying we can go and learn from England. That’s the whole message to the players. We have to have realism.

“We will give England as good and as competitive a game as we can but more importantly it will help us for our play-offs when they come.

Northern Ireland Women's manager Kenny Shiels

“The experience of having played against a team like England will purely marry in with playing Switzerland or Russia or Ukraine.”

Northern Ireland have enjoyed a rapid rise in fortunes under Shiels, rising up the rankings and earning their play-off chance. But while confidence is high, there were also tough moments in qualifying with Norway handing them 6-0 defeats home and away.

But even so, Shiels said he had no hesitation in signing up for a friendly against even tougher opposition.

“When I was asked about taking on England I immediately said yes,” he said.

“Then I went to the girls at training that evening and asked two questions.

“I said, ‘If you think playing England is too early for us, walk to the centre circle. If you think it is an opportunity to learn something, walk to the penalty spot’.

“I would say about 80 per cent wanted to play, which I thought was a pretty good return.”

Northern Ireland will go into the game short-handed – sisters Kirsty and Caitlin McGuinness are unavailable while Demi Vance is out with a knee injury, joining Megan Bell, Emma McMaster and Caragh Hamilton on the sidelines.

That means it will be a youthful Northern Ireland side with uncapped Maddy Harvey-Clifford and under-17s defender Ella Haughey among those in the squad.

And many of those that are included have barely kicked a ball in anger with the Women’s Premiership in Northern Ireland on hiatus amid the pandemic.

Captain Marissa Callaghan said the squad were fully aware of what they would be up against but are approaching the game in positive mood.

“It’s just the perfect game to get us ready,” the Cliftonville player-coach said.

“These are the best players in the world. We sit at home watching these players play on a weekly basis. Everyone is excited to be around these players, and to be in a place like St George’s Park.”

That message of maximising the experience is the one Shiels wants his players to take.

“We’ve got to squeeze out all the positives to help us improve on how we play,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to seeing how these girls do against these fantastic footballers that England have.

“They will all be taking their autograph books with them.”

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