Key talking points ahead of Northern Ireland’s trip to Greece

Northern Ireland meet Greece in the final Nations League game in Athens on Tuesday night.

After finally ending a long winless streak in this competition by beating Kosovo on Saturday, Northern Ireland are hoping to gain momentum but there is much more at stake.

Here, the PA news agency tackles the top talking points ahead of the game.

Ongoing distractions

Conor McMenamin is back in the Northern Ireland squad (Niall Carson/PA)

(PA wire)

When Northern Ireland were able to announce on the eve of this game that Conor McMenamin had been cleared to play by an independent disciplinary panel, Ian Baraclough was no doubt hoping it would end the social media video controversy that has dominated this window. McMenamin was restored because it was discovered that the video, in which he appeared to be chanting a pro-IRA slogan, was several years old and had been edited at the time. But the manager’s revelation that footage of Kyle Lafferty – sent home last week – allegedly used sectarian language was believed to have been taken after a team night out last week will keep it at the forefront of the conversation.

century upwards

Jonny Evans is already among the elite in Northern Ireland history but the 34-year-old will mark a special milestone in Athens as he makes his 100th appearance for his country. It’s been 16 years since Evans, who was then making his senior debut for Manchester United, gained his first international cap in the memorable 3-2 win over Spain in Belfast and the defender of Leicester conceded a career fine, crowned by attending all four games as Northern Ireland reached the last 16 at Euro 2016. As is tradition for players reaching milestones, Evans will wear the captain’s armband against Greece.

building blocks

Josh Magennis celebrates his goal against Kosovo (Liam McBurney/PA)

(PA wire)

As Josh Magennis was quick to point out, things could have turned very ugly at Windsor Park on Saturday when Northern Ireland were down 1-0 to Kosovo with 10 minutes to go and a small segment of the supporters again called for Baraclough to leave. But things quickly turned around as goals from Gavin Whyte and Magennis turned the game on its head and ended Northern Ireland’s long hoodoo in the competition – their first win in 15 attempts. With some wind in their sails and renewed confidence in Athens, can Northern Ireland build on that?

The descent threatens further

Northern Ireland were still celebrating their win over Kosovo when Larnaca’s goal dampened spirits – Cyprus’ surprising 1-0 win over Greece kept them level with Northern Ireland and still struggling to avoid last place in the group at the prospect of one Relegation match in March 2024 to avoid relegation to the bottom division of the competition. That means there’s still pressure on Baraclough’s men, who need to avoid defeat to make sure they don’t get into trouble.

Shape Greece

Greece coach Gus Poyet admitted he was surprised by his side’s defeat by Cyprus (Brian Lawless/PA)

(PA wire)

That win for Cyprus raised obvious questions about the Northern Ireland hosts on Tuesday night. Gus Poyet’s side secured top spot in the group and a ticket to League B with four wins in June but were far from that form in Larnaca. Greece were among their best in that game and failed to properly threaten, but Poyet said it was more of a bad night than a sign of bigger problems. “Please let’s not get dramatic,” he said. “Our job was to win the group and we won it. If we don’t achieve our goals, we can be more dramatic… We won’t change anything. We’ll play the same way because I’m convinced and the players are convinced. It’s football. Some win, some lose because the opponent can play well.” Key talking points ahead of Northern Ireland’s trip to Greece

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