Northern Ireland squad has strengthened in international window – Ian Baraclough

Ian Baraclough has come out of this international window confident he has strengthened his Northern Ireland squad ahead of June’s quadruple-header in the Nations League.

Although Tuesday’s friendly against Hungary ended in a 1-0 defeat, it has not often been the case that a Northern Ireland manager could make nine changes from a victory and get a better performance, but that is what Baraclough did following Friday’s 3-1 win over Luxembourg.

And the former under-21s boss made it 10 players he has now awarded a senior debut to as Fleetwood winger Paddy Lane started the match and Sunderland’s Trai Hume came on and almost scored late on.

“We’ve got a group of players now where whoever we put out as our starting 11 we know we can be strong, that’s what’s coming out of this,” Baraclough said. “Again we’ve swelled our numbers.”

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

International friendlies are notorious for petering out as a rash of second-half substitutions can break up a team’s rhythm.

But in Luxembourg last week it was second-half substitutes Steven Davis and Gavin Whyte who got the winning goals for Northern Ireland, and on Tuesday, replacements Hume, Shayne Lavery, George Saville and Dion Charles all went close to levelling – suggesting a growing strength-in-depth.

“We always talk about having impact players coming off the bench,” Baraclough said. “They can be disappointed not to start, you saw all of them desperate to get on and make an impact and they all did in some fashion.

“It’s really pleasing to have that in our armour. Nobody’s sulked, nobody’s thought they should have been starting ahead of somebody else and that’s what you need. It’s pleasing we can make changes and it didn’t distort us.”

Lane, 21, impressed from the start as he completed a remarkable rise from playing non-league football with Hyde last season to becoming a full international nine months later.

“He’s shown no fear,” Baraclough said. “He’s risen very quickly. Now he’s got to kick on again. I see in him a lot of what we saw in Stuart Dallas when he left Crusaders for Brentford.

“Hopefully that’s not heaping too much on his shoulders but he’s the same type of body build, great athleticism, decent on the ball and he showed a good calm head, and the personality to play the way he did.”

Baraclough joked that Hume, who joined Sunderland from Linfield in January, did not appear to be expecting his debut given he was still wearing his big coat when the manager turned and pointed at him, but having been handed the chance the 20-year-old did his best to seize it.

“I said to him be confident, be pro-active, and get into it,” he said. “He managed to get a head on one cross, got something on it and the keeper had to parry it.

“I enjoyed him when he was in possession of the ball. He had no fear, went to his man, went to link up and to get the ball in the box. For a young player making his debut when three months ago he was playing in the Irish League it’s brilliant.”

Baraclough will now turn attention to June’s Nations League games, having learned on Tuesday that Cyprus will join Greece and Kosovo in Northern Ireland’s group after a 2-0 win over Estonia.

“We were already prepared whether it was Estonia or Cyprus,” he said. “It just means it might be a little bit warmer in Cyprus. But we won’t be taking the speedos. We’re going to be working hard.”

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