Northern Ireland hope to have Ian Baraclough’s future resolved long before next month’s final World Cup qualifiers after the Irish FA board approved new contract talks with the manager.
Baraclough, 50, is nearing the end of the 18-month deal he signed last summer to replace Michael O’Neill, with his future a topic of conversation during both of the last two international windows.
A contract extension which had looked a formality in September came into question after defeats to Switzerland and Bulgaria this month ended hopes of qualifying for the Qatar World Cup, but Baraclough retains strong support at Windsor Park and is now set to stay for the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.
At a meeting on Thursday night, the board voted in favour of retaining the former under-21s manager and it is now hoped an agreement can be finalised quickly, with Lithuania and Italy due to visit Windsor Park for the final Group C fixtures in the middle of next month.
An statement read: “The Irish FA board has unanimously agreed to extend the contract of senior men’s international manager, Ian Baraclough. Contract negotiations are under way.”
The former Motherwell and Scunthorpe manager has had mixed fortunes during his time in charge to date, often facing key injuries at difficult times, but can point to plenty of progress being made in terms of refreshing the squad, a major part of the remit he was given when he took over.
Baraclough has won only four of his 18 games in charge, suffering early disappointment in his reign when their hopes of reaching Euro 2020 were ended by Slovakia in a 2-1 extra-time defeat at Windsor Park in the qualifying play-offs.
Though Northern Ireland then suffered relegation in the Nations League, optimism grew with positive displays in the summer friendlies against Malta and Ukraine.
Baraclough enjoyed his best international window in charge last month, with a 4-1 qualifying win away to Lithuania followed by a 1-0 friendly win in Estonia before a depleted side battled to a 0-0 draw with Switzerland to keep World Cup hopes alive.
But the bid to reach Qatar was effectively ended by a controversial defeat to Switzerland in Geneva earlier this month, and alarm bells rang when that was followed by Northern Ireland blowing a lead to lose 2-1 to Bulgaria in Sofia days later.
Despite those setbacks, Baraclough has earned praise for successfully integrating a number of younger players into the first team, with the likes of Daniel Ballard, Ali McCann, Conor Bradley and Shayne Lavery taking significant steps forward.
Baraclough had made it clear he wanted to stay in the job, feeling he had only begun the work of introducing a new generation of talent, while several players spoke up in support of the manager during the last two international windows.
The Irish FA showed similar patience with O’Neill at the start of his reign, with the current Stoke boss winning only one of his first 18 matches with Northern Ireland.
However, he would go on to secure a first ever qualification for the European Championships at Euro 2016 and finish his time in charge of the national team with 26 wins and 18 draws from his 72 matches in charge.
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