Nigel Worthington has called for his Northern Ireland youngsters to be given a chance in the wake of criticism sparked by their 5-0 defeat by the Republic of Ireland.
The youthful side suffered the heavy loss in Tuesday’s Carling Nations Cup match in Dublin and Worthington believes there has to be a sense of realism about the players he has had at his disposal at the tournament.
While the Republic named a strong team – with Robbie Keane leading the way with two goals on the night – Northern Ireland were without several senior players.
Responding to the criticism from the media and supporters in the aftermath, Worthington said: “Everybody is entitled to their opinion. It’s freedom of speech and we accept that, it’s part of our job.
“But people who are football people will realise that there is a lot of youth and a lot of inexperience who have been with us over the Scotland and Republic games.
“The youngsters have got to learn. You can only do what you can do – it’s as simple as that. The youngsters have got to grow up. It takes time.
“When we have had a strong squad out in the qualifiers and everybody is here, we have had fantastic results.
“The friendly scenario is disappointing but when you’ve got different personnel turning up, you look at things, you try different things, and these things do happen.
“People make their own minds up and I’ve got no problem with that. I can only work with what I’ve got and I will do the best, as I’ve always done, with the situation that we’re in.”
Next up for Northern Ireland is a meeting with Wales tomorrow night, with Gary Speed’s men also seeking a positive response following their 3-1 defeat by Scotland.
Speed left out most of his Barclays Premier League players for last night’s game and Worthington expects a stronger Wales side to line up against his own players.
He said: “There is a bit of quality around that group who are here but it’s good experience from our boys’ point of view.
“It will be tough, as it was the other night and as it was against Scotland, but we will do the best we can with what we’ve got and go from there. There is always an opportunity in football but you’ve also got to be realistic.
“Knowing the players Gary has got within the group who didn’t play against Scotland, I would assume there would be a lot of Premiership players playing against our youngsters on Friday night. That’s a fact of life and you deal with it.”
Rob Earnshaw fired Wales into a half-time lead against the Scots but goals from James Morrison, Kenny Miller and Christophe Berra in the second half denied Speed his first win as Wales boss.
Worthington added: “I watched the game on the television and I thought it was a good game, a good British game.
“It’s probably fair to say that wasn’t Wales’ best team. Like everything else, it will take a bit of time for Gary to get up and running.
“He’s got his own ideas and philosophy on what he wants to do and he’s got a group of players to shape things up the way he wants moving forward.”