Sanchez injects dose of genuine hope
The impact Lawrie Sanchez has had on the Northern Ireland side since becoming manager is best illustrated by the fact some people - and not just diehard fans - actually believe they can beat Poland in their opening World Cup qualifier on Saturday.
Sanchez says he would settle for a draw against the Poles in Belfast but when he took over in January such a result would have seemed an unlikely prospect. The team had not scored in more than 1,250 minutes of football. But since then Sanchez has boosted confidence, overseen a six-game unbeaten run - albeit against moderate opposition - and striker David Healy has scored six goals in seven games.
Sanchez's good fortune has extended to playing a below-par Poland lacking the injured striker Emmanuel Olisadebe. However, tomorrow's match is the manager's first competitive international and the Poles, even without Olisadebe, are tough opponents. Pawel Kryszalowicz, who scored twice in Poland's 4-1 win over Northern Ireland two years ago, is expected to replace Olisadebe.
"We've got to remember that Poland are the second-ranked team in this group and we're fifth-ranked out of six so that tells its own story," said Sanchez in a bid to calm the expectation building in Belfast.
Northern Ireland have not collected three points in a qualifier in more than three years and Sanchez's squad has been hit by injuries. But even avoiding defeat on Saturday will be seen as a move in the right direction.