Neil Lennon put an end to Northern Ireland’s “abyss” push and ended their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup with a 2-1 defeat to Bulgaria on Tuesday.
After a 2-0 reversal in Switzerland on Saturday, Ian Barrackloff’s side needed almost miraculous results to reach next year’s final, but fell into the first hurdle because a symbolic second-half performance allowed a reborn Bulgaria to come from behind and jump over them. Qualification Group C.
Lennon, who won the Cap0 cap for the Green and White Army, said it was based on his country’s performance. Sky Sports He was furious at their capitulation by converting Todor Nedelv’s double after Connor Washington’s opener before the break.
“That second half was great,” he said. “In the first half, Bulgaria looked like the worst team in the group so far. We had three great chances, and then the goal.
“It could be two or three at half time, they were out for the second half and completely inactive. They invited them to Bulgaria, and the game management in the second half was miserable.
“I see this Bulgaria as a third-rate quality at the moment. They are nowhere near where they were 10 or 15 years ago, and of course nowhere near the individual players of that time – Barbatov, Petrov. They are. Let the game go away from them.
“It’s just that it’s a young team, but they have to win games. They don’t learn to play like this, or lose games.
“In 15 minutes, we were barely in the middle of them, we got a corner, took a short spot and immediately it threw the pitch 50 yards back at any speed.
“They’ve completely lost their way. There’s no leadership, the gaps in the back three, the midfield and the front two were everywhere. We deserved to lose.”
Fellow former Northern Ireland international Chris Brandt introduced Bulgaria’s brilliant start in the second half and Ilian Iliyev who would score their equalizer, but said the Barclays men should have the maturity to deal with the inevitability of their hosts improving from a long opening.
“It was like a different team coming out in the second half,” he said. “They have made changes that have had a positive effect on them, but you have dealt with it.
“We said at half-time how defensive Bulgaria was, you turned them around and then you made sure you defended your own half, but we didn’t come out of our half until we were 2-1 down.
“We were second after every ball – it was disappointing to see. It was very positive from the first half, you hope they at least come out and hold it.
“You can sit and sit, but you have to go to work at one point. It’s okay the Bulgarian ball could be 40 yards away from our goal, you can feel comfortable in it, but we never did that.
“They looked like they would cause us problems every time they got the ball. We were good at doing it before, when we did well. Let them widen it, close the cross, even if it comes, we’ll deal with it.”
Barclays mourns the spell of the second half
Manager Barclays marked a 25-minute deadline after half-time where he felt his team had failed to regain control of the game to blame for their defeat at Sofia, and refused to blame the defeat on fatigue after playing with 10 men in Switzerland. On saturday.
He said Sky Sports: “You have to win your conflict one by one, you have to win your little fight. It starts to go their way for a 20 minute spell and they score goals when they come to the top.
“We were restless with our game, we didn’t get our first pass, we couldn’t get the ball in the high and wide area like the first and a half, and it got a little bit worse. Well done and it costs us.
“It was a game that we dominated in the first half, we created a lot of chances and didn’t take them without scoring a goal. Putting the foot in the game again.
“They’ll have a spell where they’ll come to us, and we’ll have to deal with it, make sure we win the second ball, all the minor fights in the game and half the 20-minute spell in the second minute, it’s off.”
Should stay in Barclays for 202224 Euros?
Barclays’ contract with his country has expired at the end of this qualifying period, winning only four of the 18 games he has been in charge of, although there have been positive discussions between the manager and the Irish FA about extending his contract.
Both Brant and Lennon agree that the last two games in Northern Ireland – next month at home to Lithuania and Italy – will prove crucial in how their future ends.
Brant said: “Michael O’Neill, perhaps our most successful manager in recent times, had a very bad tenure. It’s easy to say that he hasn’t won many matches, but we’re a small country. He’s. Reaching the wrong end of his career, and he has to bring some little boy.
This is a positive thing for us to move forward, so these next two games, they are a dead rubber from the group side, but for him and his coaching staff, they will want to get two positive results to show the fans that they can do the job and it . It’s a results-oriented business, and if you don’t win games, it’s hard. “
Two bad results at Windsor Park next month could put Northern Ireland in a low pot for the Euro 2024 qualifiers draw, and Lennon added that it should be the first priority for Barclays, whoever chooses to lead the country to the competition.
He said: “From the psychological point of view of the Italian who came to Belfast, the players will improve their game. Lithuania is a poor team, sitting at home, you want to win that Italian game. So they both play in different ways.”