ALEX JONES (@AlexJ0nes9) analyses the odds as Northern Ireland host Romania in a Nations League showdown.
Northern Ireland vs Romania | Wednesday 18th November 2020, 19:45 | Sky Sports
It’s fair to say that Northern Ireland will be looking forward to seeing the back of the Nations League for another year, as they have now gone nine games and counting in the competition without victory.
No performance sums Northern Ireland up more than their last outing in Vienna, when they took a deserved lead late on, looking set to beat top of the group Austria. Thirteen minutes later they were 2-1 down after poor defensive mistakes, one from Watford’s Craig Cathcart.
Yet they have one final chance to put their wrongs right against a mediocre Romania side on Wednesday evening. Even victory against the Romanians may not see Northern Ireland survive as they are three points adrift of their opponents here.
More worryingly for manager Ian Baraclough, whose side defeated Bosnia on penalties in the Euro play-off semi-final in October, they have failed to win during 90 minutes of any of his seven matches in charge since taking over from Michael O'Neill.
The Northern Ireland gaffer changed things up in Vienna as they reverted to 3-5-2 after playing 4-3-3 in most other games in his tenure. Conor Washington was partnered up front with Liam Boyce, whilst defender Michael Smith played in an unfamiliar defensive midfield role. The team looked far more comfortable in Vienna playing in this shape and he may try it again against weaker opponents Romania.
Romania visit Belfast after no game last weekend as the Norway camp was identified as a COVID hotspot. The two sides meet here after a 1-1 draw back in September, in a game that Romania largely dominated and won the shot count 18-7. There were plenty of fouls, too, with 37 in total.
The betting angles
Romania go off as 7/5 favourites for this one and you can see why given Northern Ireland’s wretched run of results. Romania themselves have a decent Nations League history, undefeated in 8 of their 10 outings since 2018.
Instead, I will swerve the unpredictable outright market and focus on cards. The referee for this contest is Sandro Scharer who is consistent with his cards.
Romania have picked up 12 cards in their last six games, dating back to September. They have recorded 20+ Booking Points in five of these, as their stats read: 2, 2, 1, 2, 3 and 2 cards. In their four Nations League games, they have had two or more in three of those.
Romania 20+ booking points with SkyBet is 11/10 and I’ll have a point on that. It will land if they receive two or more yellow cards, or one red card, off Swiss referee Scharer. Also, Northern Ireland opponents have picked up 20+ Booking Points in three out of five Nations League games and five in their last six (including Euro qualifiers).
As Romania have two games left and six points to chase, they could be very aggressive in their approach. Cards may be on the agenda if they believe they can still finish second in the group. So, let’s hope for some cards in Belfast on Wednesday evening.
Northern Ireland vs Romania – Romania 20+ Booking Points (11/10 SkyBet)