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Winger Jordan Jones is given another chance for redemption and the opportunity to show suitors what he is capable of when Northern Ireland takes on Malta in Austria tonight. </ Jones, who has just ended a loan period at League One Sunderland, was banned from Northern Ireland's squad ahead of last year's Euro play-off final against Slovakia after violating Covid-19 restrictions with the Rangers parents The 26-year-old was included in Ian Baraclough's first squad for the internationals in March, but had to retire due to injury.
Now Jones, who has cut ten times, is back and wants to impress his future does not seem to lie with Ibrox. He has two years left on his Rangers deal.
Jones is part of a 22-strong team that includes Middlesbrough man George Saville, who was forced to come to the camp late after authorities got him on Tuesday due to issues beyond the player’s control.
Kyle Lafferty will arrive at the team hotel today before traveling to Ukraine on Thursday. Daniel Ballard is out after the League One Play-Off final this afternoon, but Linfield striker Shayne Lavery remains in Northern Ireland.
Baraclough misses regular skipper Steven Davis and defensive rock Jonny Evans and Corry Evans on this tour, Conor Washington, Conor McLaughlin, Jamal Lewis, Michael Smith and goalkeepers Michael McGovern and Trevor Carson.
But Stuart Dallas, Paddy McNair, Craig Cathcart, Ali McCann, Josh Magennis, Niall McGinn, Shane Ferguson and Liam Boyce are expected play tonight while exciting striker Dion Charles is also pushing for playtime and former Linfield hotshot Paul Smyth is back with the squad just released by QPR.
Cardiff’s Ciaron Brown has never let Northern Ireland down and could play alongside Cathcart in the heart of defense.
Baraclough only had three sessions with his players ahead of tonight’s friendly but believes the long-awaited win will will come.
He says, “I want to see things that we have talked about and worked on. I want to keep the theme of improving myself every time we get together and every time we play.
“I was talking about winning the two games when we first met and that there weren’t any friendlies for us and we can’t afford to take things easy. “
” We want to get the sacrifices the players made to be here right and make sure that we get the right processes, allowing us to win the game.
Baraclough is likely to bleed some of his young guns on the judging panel with U23 aces Sam McClelland of Chelsea and Liverpool’s Conor Bradley in the squad for the first time, along with Ethan Galbraith of Manchester United and Alfie McCalmont, who were on loan at Oldham from Leeds United.
However, the Northern Ireland manager admits that some of the young players have to be content with the experience of an international squad.
“I say “Tell them at the first meeting, we’ll see how the games play,” said Baraclough. “One or two of the young guys may not be ready for this, and it’s very much about putting them in the group and letting them take a look at what it’s about. This exposure for them to prepare for a game is a great education for them. I do not rule out that they will get playing time. “
Malta is playing three games in Austria in this international window and in March last year they had a 2nd against the Northern Irish play-off conquerors in Slovakia : Tied 2.
“I’ve seen Malta and I know they are a decent team. There are no minnows now,” admits Baraclough.
“You look at these teams and maybe 10 years ago you expected to beat them by three, four or five, but that won’t happen.
“We know how Slovakia is and Malta played them 2-0 and they were good for that, until Slovakia comes back into the game with two standard situations Game came.
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