Northern Ireland talking points: Room for improvement against Hungary

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Ian Baraclough knows his side must be better to live with Hungary on Tuesday (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
Ian Baraclough knows his side must be better to live with Hungary on Tuesday (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

Northern Ireland will be back at Windsor Park on Tuesday night for a friendly against Hungary.

As they look to build on Friday’s 3-1 win away to Luxembourg, the match will be the last opportunity Ian Baraclough gets to try out new ideas before June’s Nations League quadruple header.

Here the PA news agency looks at five key talking points ahead of the match.

Room for improvement

Although Northern Ireland could take confidence from a victory and three goals away from home, Baraclough was quick to recognise Friday’s performance at the Stade de Luxembourg was a “mixed bag”.

Though Northern Ireland started and finished strongly, in between they allowed Luxembourg to dominate possession, and the hosts looked the more likely winners early in the second half as they peppered Luke Southwood with shots on his international debut.

Hungary are a considerable step up in opposition – having been promoted to League A they will take on England, Germany and Italy in this summer’s Nations League – and Northern Ireland will need to be much better at keeping the ball if they are to live with them.

Freshening things up

Baraclough will look to name a strong side on Tuesday but several changes are expected from Friday night. Steven Davis, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Dan Ballard, Ali McCann and Paddy McNair are five players expected to come into the starting XI, and there could be more as Baraclough looks at his options for the summer.

Having previously spoken about how triple-headers could stretch his small squad, Baraclough is trying to work out how to handle the four fixtures they will face in June, and needs to know which of the younger players in his squad are ready to step up.

Magennis on song

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Although Davis and Gavin Whyte stole the headlines by scoring two decisive late goals in Luxembourg, it was Magennis who gave Northern Ireland an early lead, barging Maxime Chanot off the ball before finishing from a tight angle.

It was only his ninth international strike, but Magennis has found some form, having scored in his last three games for club and country after goals for Wigan against Crewe and Morecambe coming into this window. “Strikers have purple patches,” Baraclough said. “He is now on a hot streak and a confident Josh Magennis is difficult to handle.”

Happy memories

 (PA Archive)
(PA Archive)

Northern Ireland remember well their last two meetings with the Hungarians. Their successful run to qualify for Euro 2016 started with a come-from-behind 2-1 win in Budapest, while the return fixture in Belfast saw Northern Ireland battle to a 1-1 draw despite having Chris Baird sent off for earning two yellow cards in a single passage of play.

Door still open for Lafferty

 (PA Archive)
(PA Archive)

Kyle Lafferty scored in both of those games, getting the winner in Budapest and the stoppage-time equaliser at Windsor Park. Hungary will not need to worry about Northern Ireland’s second-highest goalscorer on Tuesday with the 34-year-old having not been part of Baraclough’s recent squads but, when asked about Lafferty by a Hungarian reporter, the manager said the Kilmarnock striker remains on his radar.

“He’s come back to Scotland and scored a couple at the weekend,” Baraclough said. “He knows the door is always open. I can’t turn anybody away. If someone is in form there’s a chance they get selected. Competition for places is what we’ve tried to build over the last couple of years.”