Ian Baraclough believes Northern Ireland ‘ticked most of the boxes’ in Malta win

Ian Baraclough admitted his Northern Ireland side were not at their best in Sunday’s 3-0 friendly win over Malta but that did not matter as the goals finally flowed and he could celebrate his first victory inside 90 minutes at the 12th attempt.

Northern Ireland got some monkeys off their back as Baraclough got his first win since the penalty shoot-out victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina last year, while he also saw his side score more than once for the first time in his tenure.

Against a Malta side ranked 175th in the world and short on match fitness helped at times, Ferdinando Apap’s awful clearance gifted Jordan Jones the chance to fire Northern Ireland ahead inside two minutes before quickfire goals from Gavin Whyte and Ali McCann finished the job after the break.

After Josh Magennis missed a penalty midway through the first half, Malta grew into the game and edged possession, threatening Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s goal a few times but there was plenty for Baraclough to take away.

“It was very pleasing,” he said. “The way we started both halves is something we’ve discussed, we wanted to start quickly and put the opposition on the back foot and we certainly did that.

“I was pleased with scoring three goals, and obviously with creating chances and finally getting the rewards for it. And keeping a clean sheet as well. The team as a whole ticked most of the boxes.

“Looking at it, I think we’ve played better actually in other games and not got the rewards so I’m delighted we have got the rewards and can enjoy looking at a lot of that performance.”

Jones, who finished the season on loan at Sunderland after breaching Covid-19 regulations at Rangers last year, and McCann both registered their first international goals.

“Jordan getting his goal, he’s had a tough period leaving Rangers under the cloud he did,” Baraclough said. “But to go on loan, he’s built up his game time with Sunderland and that allows him to come back into the squad and it’s pleasing he can get a goal.

“For Ali McCann getting his first international goal, his second-half performance was very strong and he deserved that goal, that’s what he’s got in his game, he is a box-to-box midfielder, I was pleased when I saw him on the end of it and it was a calm finish.”

Having selected a squad blending youth and experience for this trip – with a fixture away to Euro 2020-bound Ukraine to follow on Thursday – Baraclough named a strong starting XI, including Stuart Dallas as captain, Paddy McNair and Craig Cathcart.

But among his changes after the break were second caps for Alfie McCalmont and Dion Charles, plus an unexpected debut for 17-year-old Liverpool defender Conor Bradley late on.

“It’s nice to give young players their debuts and for Conor, coming on as a 17-year-old, there’s not too many 17-year-olds who have made their debut for Northern Ireland but he goes into a select band of men,” Baraclough added.

“He’ll remember this for a long, long time and that’s what this trip is about as well – trying to give young players an education.

“Whether he expected to get some game time I don’t know but he’s gone and done it and he can be very, very proud of what he’s done this week.”

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