Neil Lennon got angry at Northern Ireland’s “abysmal” collapse to lose their mind to a 2-1 defeat to Bulgaria on Tuesday, putting an end to their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup.
After Saturday’s 2-0 loss in Switzerland, Ian Baraclough’s side needed a series of almost miraculous results to reach next year’s final, but fell at the first hurdle in a chaotic performance in second half saw a resurgent Bulgaria come back from behind and leap over them. in group C of qualifications.
Lennon, who won 40 caps for the Green and White Army, took advantage of his country’s performance and said Air sports he remained angry with their surrender, with Todor Nedelev’s brace reversing the game after Conor Washington’s opener before the break.
“This second half has been appalling,” he said. “In the first half Bulgaria looked like the worst team in the group by far. We had three great chances and then we scored.
“It could have been two or three at half time, they came out in the second half and were totally passive. They invited Bulgaria to join them and the handling of the second half game was pathetic.
“I consider Bulgaria to be a third-rate quality team at the moment. They are far from where they were 10 or 15 years ago, and certainly far from the individual players of the time – the Berbatovs, the Petrov They let the game get away from them.
“It’s good to say they’re a young team, but they have to win games. They won’t learn by playing like this, or by losing games either.
“With 15 minutes remaining we were barely in their half of the field, we got a corner, took a short one and immediately he’s 50 yards from the pitch to kill any momentum.
“They have completely lost their way. There is no leadership, the gaps between the last three, the midfielder and the first two were everywhere. We deserved to lose.”
Former Northern Ireland international Chris Brunt highlighted Bulgaria’s brilliant start to the second half and Ilian Iliev’s introduction to the gap that would set their tying goal, but said the men of Baraclough should have been mature enough to face the inevitable of their hosts. improvement of a soft opening period.
“It was like a different team came out in the second half,” he said. “They’ve made changes that have had a positive effect on them, but you take care of them.
“We talked about Bulgaria’s defensive weakness at half-time, you turn them around and then make sure to defend your own half, but we didn’t get out of our half until we were down 2-1.
“We were behind every ball – it was disappointing to watch it. There were a lot of positives in the first half, you at least expect them to come out and hang on to it, the bare minimum. C was really, really passive.
“You can sit and sit, but you have to go to work at some point. It’s good to say Bulgaria can have the ball 40 yards from our goal, you can be comfortable with that, but we never did.
“They seemed to give us trouble every time they got the ball. We were good at it before, when we did well. I’ll take care of it.”
Baraclough laments his fate in the second half
Manager Baraclough identified a 25-minute period after half-time where he felt his side had failed to regain control of the game with Sofia to blame for his loss, and declined to attribute the loss to the fatigue suffered while playing with 10 men in Switzerland. Saturday.
He said Air sports: “You have to win your head-to-head duels, you have to win your little skirmishes. It started playing for 20 minutes and that’s when they scored the goals when they got the upper hand.
“We weren’t in order with our game, we didn’t make our first pass, we didn’t manage to get the ball into the high and wide areas like we did in the first half , and it deteriorated a bit. Whether it was a little fatigue or fatigue, we did not handle well the game went very well for this fate and it cost us.
“It’s a game that we dominated in the first half, we created some good chances and didn’t take them apart from the goal. We came in at half-time and talked about upping the intensity. , to move the ball, one foot in the game again.
“They’ll have a spell where they come towards us, and we have to face it, make sure we win the second balls, every little skirmish in the game, and for a 20 minute spell in the second half it’s stopped. to occur.
Should Baraclough stay for Euro 2024?
Baraclough’s contract is on-going with his country at the end of this qualifying period having won just four of his 18 games in charge, although there have been positive discussions between the manager and the Irish federation on the extension of his contract.
Brunt and Lennon have both agreed that Northern Ireland’s last two games – at home against Lithuania and Italy next month – will be key to their future.
Brunt said: “Michael O’Neill, probably the most successful manager we’ve had in recent times, has also had a rough start. It’s easy to say he hasn’t won a lot of games, but we We’re a small country, he’s coming out of a very successful period, the players are coming to the wrong end of their careers and he has to bring in younger guys.
It’s a positive thing for us to move forward, so these next two games they are a dead rubber in terms of the squad, but for him and his coaching staff they will want to get two positive results to show. to the fans that they can do the job and it’s up to him to move forward. It’s a results-based business, and if you don’t win games, it’s tough. “
Two poor results at Windsor Park next month could leave Northern Ireland in a lower pot in the Euro 2024 qualifying draw, and Lennon added that this should be the top priority for Baraclough no matter who is chosen to lead the country to this competition.
He said: “Italy coming to Belfast is healing themselves from a psychological point of view, the players will increase their level of play. Lithuania are a bad team, at home you want a win before this game against the Italy. So they’re two good games in different ways. “