Great time for Northern Ireland to tackle ‘Tinkerman’ and Greece

You have to go back to 1961, that’s 53 years, for the only time when Northern Ireland beat Greece. All four other meetings were won by the Pirate Ship, and that is why they are odds-on 1/2 favourites for victory again with Coral.

This price fails to take into account that new Greece boss Claudio Ranieri is winless from his first two matches in charge, however, or the fact that Northern Ireland (2/1 chances to reach the France finals) sit top of Euro 2016 qualifying Group F.

Punters may feel that is a false position for the Greens after victory over Hungary, a shadow of their former selves, and the Faroe Islands, but odds of 6/1 on a third straight win for Michael O’Neill’s men are temptingly long. It’s 3/1 on a draw, but the sides have never shared spoils before.

Depsite a distinguished coaching career that has taken in Chelsea, Juventus and others, Ranieri is searching for the right blend for his Pirate Ship’s gunpowder. Their attacking cannons have stalled somewhat, but in truth were hardly prolific target hitters under predecessor Fernando Santos.

Greece’s struggles in front of goal are no better personified than by former Fulham flop Kostas Mitroglou. He is on a dismal run of 10 games without scoring for his country, so is inexplicably short at 5/4 to net anytime.

Ranieri rubbished claims he was already fighting for his job at the Pirate’s Ship helm, however. “I am used to being under pressure,” he said. “My job is hard but I love this job.

“I know I have to arrive in the Euro 2016 finals, that is my goal. It is very important to beat Northern Ireland.” Greece are 5/2 second-favourites, behind Romania, to finish top of Group F.

The old maxim says reputations go before you, and Ranieri’s is certainly well justified. Nicknamed ‘the Tinkerman’, he made five changes having lost to 10-man Romania in their first qualifier, and one that paid off was bringing in winger Nikos Karelis in on the left. He netted the opener in Finland, and is 5/1 to do so again on home soil.

While that should be enough for the wideman to keep his place on the Pirate Ship’s flank, the likes of national skipper Dimitrios Salpingidis (also 5/4 in the anytime market) and recent West Bromwich Albion arrival Georgios Samaras (6/4) will hope to be handed recalls.

Kyle Lafferty, who has struggled to make an impact at Championship club Norwich City upon his return to England, has taken up the goal burden for Northern Ireland, meanwhile. He has two in as many qualifiers, and is therefore a sumptuous 7/2 to keep that rich vein of form going. Both of Lafferty’s goals rounded off the scoring in previous assignments, and it’s 10/1 on him doing that a third time.

Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn has also been on target for the Greens in this campaign, and is 10/3 to so again here. O’Neill may drop him, though, in favour of Corry Evans (8/1 in the anytime market). Gareth McAuley, who netted the opener against the Faroes, is 12/1 to mark his 50th cap in similar fashion following an injury scare.

Injuries to midfielder Chris Brunt and defender Craig Cathcart do reduce O’Neill’s options. This is a tough assignment, but best chance of causing an upset Northern Ireland will get. If they won away in Eastern Europe, then they are capable of doing so in the port of Piraeus. A repeat result from the Hungary game, 2-1, is well-worth considering at 25/1.