After manager Nigel Worthington stepped down from his role yesterday, life does not get any easier for Northern Ireland, with a trip to Italy tonight for their final Euro 2012 qualifier.
The boys from Belfast saw their faint qualification hopes distinguished with the disappointing defeat to Estonia on Friday and to compound their misery, it doesn’t get much tougher than Italy (a) to round off another disappointing campaign.
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Add the fact that they will have a departing manager at the helm and it all points to a difficult evening in Pescara – especially as they have been hit by player withdrawals as well.
Chris Brunt and Sammy Clingan are the latest players to pull out, with West Brom midfielder Brunt sidelined by an ankle injury while Coventry captain Clingan has a back problem.
Goalkeeper Lee Camp and classy midfielder Grant McCann withdrew on Saturday while Kyle Lafferty is banned.
Rangers striker Lafferty picked up a booking in the clash with the Estonians to trigger a suspension for tonight’s match against the Group C winners.
Worthington will more-than-likely try out a number of young players while at the other end of the scale, veteran ‘keeper Maik Taylor is set to play at the age of 40 due to Camp’s absence.
Italy, with top spot secured, they may tinker with their line-up, with a possible international bow for Pablo Osvaldo.
The Roma striker has been in good form of late, scoring three goals in as many fixtures in Serie A, and coach Cesare Prandelli has seen enough to call him up to the squad to replace the injured Man City forward Mario Balotelli.
The action starts at 19:45 BST tonight and even if the Italians do play around with their starting XI, you can only see one result. The Northern Irish will be happy to see the back of this campaign and start planning for the future.
By Matthew Roulstone