Ian Baraclough has praised Luke Southwood for helping to keep Northern Ireland in the game as he made his international debut in Friday’s 3-1 win over Luxembourg.
The 24-year-old Reading goalkeeper replaced Conor Hazard at half-time at the Stade de Luxembourg.
Northern Ireland were leading 1-0 at the time, but had been under pressure for much of the first half since Josh Magennis’ opener in the 16th minute, and were on their backs early in the game. second half.
Although Southwood couldn’t do much against Marvin Martin’s header from a 58th-minute corner, he made a series of saves to deny Gerson Rodrigues, Danel Sinani and Mica Pinto, preventing Luxembourg from taking the total control of the match during its best period of the night.
“In the second half they certainly tried harder on goal and I felt like he handled it very, very well,” Baraclough said of the eighth player he awarded his international debut.
“He is very clean with his hands and very good with his feet. For someone making his debut, he looked very comfortable.
Substitutes Steven Davis and Gavin Whyte snatched the goals that gave Northern Ireland the win – scoring in the 83rd and 85th minutes – but Luxembourg ended the game with more possession and more shots on goal.
Baraclough called his side’s performance a “mixed bag”, but insisted he was happy with the defensive form, saying most of Luxembourg’s shots were taken from distance.
“They mostly came from outside the box and if they came from outside the box I’m more than happy with that,” he said. “I’ll have to think about it again, but most of the time it was because of a bit of neglect, giving the ball away and struggling to get back into shape.
“We have to put that away for Tuesday (against) Hungary. It will be a bigger test on Tuesday.
Davis started the evening on the bench and the 37-year-old played half an hour, his first action for club or country in six weeks due to injury concerns.
Prior to his arrival, his composure in the middle of the park was certainly lacking as Luxembourg got the upper hand midway through the game.
Baraclough said: “I think the team are so used to him being there and it will take some time if we have a period where he is out of the team or if his international career ends.
“That’s what good players do for the group. It is important to have this experience. When you’re without him, you have to be able to handle that.
Davis and Whyte were among four substitutions made by Baraclough in the 63rd minute, when Jonny Evans was taken off and replaced by Ciaron Brown.
Evans, back ahead of schedule from a hamstring problem that has kept him out since December, said on Thursday his plan was to go until halftime and then make a decision on playing time, but Baraclough said 60 minutes was still the real goal.
Evans will sit out Tuesday’s game against Hungary as he manages his comeback.
“The goal was one hour,” Baraclough said. “You always assess him at half-time. He probably wanted to go on longer, but it was still planned to go for an hour.
“He’s going back to Leicester now. Jonny will be happy, Leicester will be happy and we are certainly happy.