Ian Baraclough was left to mourn a very familiar story for Northern Ireland as the lack of cutting proved decisive in a 2-1 World Cup qualifying defeat to Bulgaria.
After Saturday’s controversial 2-0 defeat to Switzerland left hopes of going to Qatar hanging by a thread, a second-half collapse in Sofia cut them to the point of deciding to cancel a proper brace by Todor Nedelev the first-half strike of Conor Washington.
As disappointing as shown in the half-time, Northern Ireland dominated before the break, and should have had a more-than-one-goal lead as Paddy McNair went straight to the goalkeeper from close range, while Josh Magennis and Washington were pass on to other opportunities.
“When we’re dominant, creating opportunities, getting a lot of balls in the box it causes problems,” Baraclough said.
“We got bodies in the box and had some really good chances, Paddy’s header was probably the main one – the goal keeper pulled out a great save, but Paddy would fail that he didn’t put. it’s in the opposite corner.
“Josh had a header, I think Conor had and there was a half-chance. Then with a 20 minute spell in the second half they had two half-chances and the ball was in the net.
“It was a lesson for us in managing the game. We had great control in the first half and then it was about making sure they had their spell we denied their chances. We didn’t, we pretty much rag it and it cost us . “
After the anger and frustration of the Geneva defeat, shaped by the controversial first-half red card presented to Jamal Lewis, Northern Ireland traveled to Sofia determined to fight their seeding and lay a marker for the qualifying campaigns to come.
But the positive momentum of those shown last month was quickly lost for Baraclough’s short team as they were unable to adapt to the changes Bulgaria made at the break.
“We were very disappointed,” he added. “We knew it was half an hour into our game to go ahead and win more. It wasn’t complacency, we came out with the same mindset. In the first couple or three minutes we had that, but for some reason it was dropped and we allowed them a bit more space.
“We weren’t able to win the second ball and let them get to the park. They were two great strikes, we couldn’t take that away with (Nedelev), but he was a guy we pointed out, we knew he was a danger. on his left side. “
The defeat knocked Northern Ireland slipping to fourth, three points behind Bulgaria in Group C, with only Italy and Switzerland in the mix for tickets to Qatar.
Baraclough’s staff will end next month’s campaign with home games against Lithuania and Italy, desperate to give Windsor Park fans something to have fun with.
“I told the kids there, you have to make sure you’re in the squad for three or four weeks,” the manager added.
“It’s a quick round again and there can’t be any guarantees. We’ve had a lot of bruises and bruises in there. The Lads will be back at their clubs and make sure they prepare themselves correctly to be ready for the end. of the week and play twice a week, then get back in the best shape possible.
“We hope we have a stronger lot to choose from because we’ve reduced injuries in the last few days.”