Northern Ireland: Bulgaria game 'be all and end all' for World Cup campaign says Stephen Craigan

NI captain Steven Davis
Craigan has called on experienced NI players like Steven Davis to help grind out a result against Bulgaria

Wednesday's crunch World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria is the "be all and end all" for Northern Ireland, says former defender Stephen Craigan.

Northern Ireland followed Thursday's opening qualifying defeat by Italy with Sunday's friendly loss at home to USA.

Ian Baraclough's side need to beat Bulgaria keep pace in the race for a play-off spot with Switzerland, who have won their first two qualifiers.

"This is the be all and end all," Craigan told Radio Ulster Sportsound.

"This is a huge game on Wednesday night. For the team and the group and for the manager as well.

"I'm not saying he's going to be under pressure after the game or there's going to be anything catastrophic, but as a manager when you come in you want to win games of football, you want to progress things forward."

Speaking after the friendly loss to the USA, Craigan added that the players must assume responsibility in the knowledge that losing to the Bulgarians will leave Northern Ireland fighting an uphill battle in their quest to reach a first World Cup since 1986.

"We need to find a way to win, simple as," added Craigan, who won 54 caps for NI.

"You can talk about tactics, you can talk about shape and you can talk about set-plays, we have to find a way to win a game of football."

"The players have to take that responsibility on board.

"We can't come into it saying 'we played well for 30 minutes, or we missed a couple of chances and we made a mistake but we're learning and progressing'."

'It doesn't matter how you win'

Baraclough, who is yet to win in 90 minutes in his 10 games since replacing Michael O'Neill at the Windsor Park helm, made 10 changes for USA friendly with only Corry Evans retaining his place from the Italy game.

The NI boss is expected to restore his key men for Bulgaria's visit to Belfast on Wednesday, and Craigan has called on the "leaders" in the squad to use their experience in the quest to get points on the board.

"You can talk about change - the players buy into it when you're winning games, so I'm looking for the experienced players like Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart, Steven Davis and Stuart Dallas, the experienced leaders in the group have got to get that message across to the players.

"It doesn't matter how you win it, it doesn't have to be pleasing or pretty on the eye. We simply need to win."

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