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Poles Apart But Northern Irish Will Provide Stern Test

3 September 2009 by
As Ian Holloway would say, it’s ‘squeaky bum time.’ A Northern Ireland win, and they are in pole position, whilst if Poland win, the race for qualification is wide open once more. Gone are the days where Northern Ireland’s last few games are treated as meaningless, as after an abysmal start, Nigel Worthington’s troops have swung the momentum full tilt in their favour.
But Poland will be no easy task. Whilst Windsor Park is made into a fortress for home matches, the Silesian Stadium will prove to be a living hell-hole for the men in green. Add to that Northern Irelands’ poor recent away form, and most would say that Poland are massive favourites. In contrast, the press has recently stated that Poland, whilst they can play attractive football, are extraordinarily tetchy when behind, so an early Northern Ireland goal could prove to be pivotal. And with Poland still avenging their 3-2 reverse in March, Northern Ireland will have to concentrate fully, or their hopes could be dashed. Steve Davis said, ‘We’ll be first to admit ourselves that our away form hasn’t been god enough. We’ve relied too much on our home form and if we’re going to have realistic aspirations of qualifying for major tournaments we have to pick up points away from homes and that starts now, going to Poland.’
Whilst they are reknowned for liking a bit of banter, no-one needs to tell the Northern Irish fans the seriousness of this match
Whilst they are reknowned for liking a bit of banter, no-one needs to tell the Northern Irish fans the seriousness of this match

Four Northern Irish players will run the gauntlet in Poland, with the risk of missing their crucial home encounter with Slovakia. Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, George McCartney and Ryan McGivern all know that another misdemeanor will rule them out, although McGivern is likely to start on the bench. Captain Aaron Hughes and Stephen Craigan are almost certain to start, with the other three yellow-periled defenders vying for the remaining berths. Kyle Lafferty and Chris Brunt are available for selection after serving suspensions, but Chris Baird is definitely out. Lafferty, likely to be partnered with Martin Paterson or David Healy up front, feels he needs to kick start his season in Chorzow. He told the Belfast Telegraph, ‘It’s been a frustrating start to the season having to sit out, but the lads have done well at Rangers and I know it will be hard for me to get back into the team. It’s good for me to come away with Northern Ireland now and I feel ready after doing extra training because I haven’t been playing games.’

Jonny Evans will be walking the disciplinary tightrope
Jonny Evans will be walking the disciplinary tightrope

Poland, meanwhile, pose more than a wary threat. Ebi Smolarek. surprisingly still a free agent, has 19 international goals to his name and will cause huge problems with his height, whilst Jacek Kryznowek’s trickery could lead to a crucial goal. Captain Michal Zewlakow will be a tough nut to crack, so Northern Ireland will be have to be on top of their game to come away with anything.

Ebi Smolarek could prove to be a handful
Ebi Smolarek could prove to be a handful

My prediction? Northern Ireland to hold out for a score draw. Whilst they might not have the attacking flair of their Eastern European counterparts, their sheer grit and determination should see them come home with something. Expect it to be a long, hard slog.

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