Northern Ireland left with goalkeeping gap
Northern Ireland may have lost the most experienced player in their squad but defender Craig Cathcart has backed a potential debutant to replace him.
Veteran Birmingham goalkeeper Maik Taylor, 39, was yesterday ruled out of the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier in Serbia tomorrow - as well as the home clash with Slovenia four days later - due to shoulder and knee injuries. And while the long-term number one would have been bidding for his 88th cap, the most in the current national set-up, his likely replacement Lee Camp is now in line for his first.
Camp's only other experience in international football came when he earned five England Under-21 caps, including the first professional match at the revamped Wembley but, having been given the green light to switch allegiance last month, he is expected to edge out Jonathan Tuffey and Alan Blayney in Belgrade.
It would be a swift elevation for the 26-year-old Nottingham Forest keeper, but one Cathcart feels he is more than ready for. "I'm sure he will cope with that; he looks a cool customer," Cathcart said. "At Forest there is a lot of pressure anyway because they are a big club and they want to be getting out of the Championship. He'll have no problem coping."
The Blackpool defender conceded Taylor would be a loss to the squad but has been impressed by what he has seen from his would-be successor. "Maik being out of this game is a big miss," Cathcart added. "He has so much experience and he has been around the squad for so long, so it's a blow.
"But we have Jonathan Tuffey and now Lee too. I played against Lee a couple of times with Blackpool when we were in the Championship last season and he looks a good player. It looks like he's had a couple of great seasons since Forest got him."
Baird to don armband
Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington has confirmed Fulham's Chris Baird will captain the side against Serbia to mark his 50th appearance, taking the armband from club-mate Aaron Hughes. Leading the side out will be a unique experience at the Crvena Zvezda Stadium, with home fans banned after crowd trouble in Italy last year but around 250 visiting supporters in attendance after an appeal to UEFA.
Despite the strange atmosphere of a near-deserted ground, Baird is proud of the achievement. "The 50th cap is amazing, I didn't think I would get there but I am proud it has come around," he said. "I'm delighted, I'm honoured. Fifty caps for your country is good going and I'm privileged.
"I've had the captaincy before and lost both games but it is nice to captain the side. It's another great honour for me personally and it will be lovely to lead the side in Serbia."