So close yet so far – what we noticed against Romania

Liam Boyce has been a real positive during the international window

Impressive and positive for 80 minutes before feeling a bit deflated by the result… is anyone else getting deja vu?

Just like in Austria on Sunday, Northern Ireland took the lead in the Nations League but fell short with the finishing line in sight.

Ian Baraclough’s wait for a maiden victory as boss rolls on, as does Northern Ireland’s bid for a Nations League victory.

Here are five things we noticed from a rather forgettable affair at Windsor Park.

Down but not out

Nothing gets you pumped up for a game like Uefa confirming your relegation mere hours before kick-off, does it?

In soaking conditions, the first-half of the dead-rubber was pretty dire and it looked like both teams wanted the final whistle to come as early as possible in a laboured affair.

Referee Sandro Scharer certainly didn’t help the game flow and although things improved in the second half it is an encounter that will be swiftly forgotten.

BBC Sport commentator Michael McNamee said it best: “Maybe the referee had a really bad holiday in Portrush once and is seeking his revenge…”

Baraclough buoyed by NI performance

Boyce gets his reward

There were 1266 days between Liam Boyce’s first goal against New Zealand in 2017 and his opener tonight. Talk about a long wait.

Just like in Austria, the Hearts striker looked bright and showcased his technical ability before finally netting a deserved goal.

He was treated like a climbing frame in a playground by the Romania defenders in the first-half and it’s a shame his substitution looked enforced, with ice strapped to his right leg towards the end of the match.

Whether it is starting with Josh Magennis, Conor Washington or even Kyle Lafferty, Boyce has shown enough to suggest he should be the number one man for Baraclough going forward.

Next generation

If the Austria game was a glimpse into the future, the Romania game offered a further look at what is ahead for Ian Baraclough’s men.

In the absence of Steven Davis, Ali McCann was excellent on his second international start and was probably Northern Ireland’s man of the match in the centre of the park.

Alongside the experience of Craig Cathcart and Jonny Evans, Daniel Ballard was also excellent and looked as composed on the ball as he did off it.

Matty Kennedy was quiet but showcased his ability in patches and there was finally a second cap for midfielder Ethan Galbraith, who didn’t get much time to show what he could do on the left wing.

After being treated to plenty of success in recent years, it’s sometimes easy to forget this squad are going through a period of transition.

Ali McCann
Ali McCann has had an impressive start to his Northern Ireland career

Going through changes

It was hardly vintage stuff, but the game against Romania was almost like the Northern Ireland of old under Michael O’Neill.

Ok, the visitors didn’t have the scintillating striker of Erling Haaland or the star player like David Alaba, but they barely got a sniff against an organised defensive pack and the front duo of Magennis and Boyce linked up well.

However just like Austria, the three points didn’t come. The 3-5-2 disappeared and there were a few square pegs in round holes for the final 10 minutes as Baraclough switched to one striker up top.

There are a pile of reasons for the switch in formation, but ultimately it didn’t work out as Romania capitalised on some sustained pressure in the closing stages.

Coming up…

How on earth do you sum up the most recent set of international fixtures?

From the crushing blow of missing out on a spot at Euro 2020 to positive yet winless performances, it is hard not to be disappointed at what has happened but have an air of optimism about the next generation of talent.

Next up for this team in transition it is the World Cup qualifying draw as Northern Ireland look set to be placed in the third pot of seedings.

All fingers will be crossed as Baraclough will be hoping for a favourable draw in December and some well overdue luck ahead of some massive games in 2021.

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