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Northern Ireland boss laments draw after dominant display as World Cup hopes fade

A goalless draw at home to Bulgaria has left their qualification dreams in peril.

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough.
Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough.
Image: PA

IAN BARACLOUGH WAS left to wonder what more his Northern Ireland players could have done as their must-win World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria ended in a frustrating goalless draw.

Baraclough’s side dominated possession and kept a young Bulgaria side pegged back deep inside their own half for most of the night, but a lack of cutting edge proved costly as they failed to make their chances pay.

Stuart Dallas headed on to the crossbar midway through the first half while Gavin Whyte and substitute Niall McGinn both threatened after the break, but in the end they were grateful to goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell for an outstanding late save to deny Dimitar Iliev.

Northern Ireland enjoyed 67% possession and had 14 attempts at goal, but only three of those were on target.

“I’m not sure we can create any more chances, can we, and not score?” Baraclough said. “We could maybe be a little cuter around the box but the lads are just anxious to score and hit the target.

“They’ll probably go back to their clubs and all hit the back of the net but this is a different situation.

“It’s not for the want of trying. The lads gave everything, I think we had 27, 28 crosses going in and flashing across. We’re creating things but it’s just not bouncing for us.”

It was another night where positive play from Baraclough’s side went unrewarded, a narrative that he needs to find a way to change quickly.

“I’m not sure when Northern Ireland last had 70% possession but you have to convert the chances,” Baraclough added.

We probably haven’t hit the target enough. It’s raw at the moment. The game went how we wanted it to but we haven’t finished it off.”

This was only Northern Ireland’s second Group C fixture, but Baraclough and his players had not shied away from calling it a must-win. Instead, the draw leaves them exactly where they did not want to be – already playing catch-up after Italy and Switzerland took maximum points this week.

“It means that we’ve probably got to beat Switzerland in Switzerland,” Baraclough said when asked what the result meant for World Cup hopes.

“We’ve been there before. Many of the players have been there before. Maybe we can come back with a result. The target was three points and we’re disappointed not to turn one point into three but now we have to look to September, go to Lithuania and target that as three points.”

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Bulgaria certainly looked a beatable side as they undergo a rebuilding job under new coach Yasen Petrov, who named four debutants in his starting 11 and brought on another after dishing out first caps to five others in last week’s qualifying defeats against Italy and Switzerland.

“We had three tough games against Switzerland, Italy and Northern Ireland,” Petrov said. “We called up 26 players, 25 have played and 10 have made their debuts.

“It was a tough match. At the end we could have won but we could have easily lost. I’m happy we had an answer to the aggression the host team played with.

“I was very pleased with the defence. For the goalkeeper and the defenders the average age is 21 and three of the four made their debuts tonight.”

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