Preview of Malta against Northern Ireland at the Ta'qali National Stadium
Michael O'Neill is looking for his first win as Northern Ireland manager as his side travel to Malta for a friendly.
Last Updated: 06/02/13 11:20am
O'Neill is looking for his first win at the eighth attempt of asking since taking over the helm, with the side having not won a game since a 4-0 victory over the Faroe Islands in August 2011.
The Mediterranean side have proven to be a good omen for Northern Ireland, who have managed five wins and a draw from their six previous visits, and in 1989 it provided a notable first for O'Neill as he netted his maiden international goal.
The winless run has included draws from four of his seven games, including an unlikely point in Portugal. But the clash will most likely provide a much-needed opportunity to try out youth for next month's qualifier against Russia with striker Kyle Lafferty and defender Chris Baird suspended for the game along with the withdrawal of several players through injury.
Goalkeepers Roy Carroll (back) and Trevor Carson (broken finger), defensive duo Ryan McGivern (hamstring) and Ryan McLaughlin (calf), midfielder Oliver Norwood (foot) and striker Jamie Ward (hamstring) have all pulled out of the squad because of concerns over their fitness.
A number of players could make their debuts, with Billy McKay of Inverness probably the most likely as the top scorer in the Scottish Premier League this season. Tranmere's Adam McGurk, Josh Magennis of Aberdeen and Walsall's Will Grigg are also contenders.
And the former Shamrock Rovers boss admits everybody is keen to finally end that winless run, saying: "It doesn't keep me awake at night, but the players want that (victory) as well. The players know we have to get back to winning games."
Malta have won four of their last seven games which is their best run since 2001-02. They will be without midfielder Roderick Briffa and defender Jonathan Caruana, who are both carrying knocks.
Head coach Pietro Chedin is set to make two changes from the side that completed a 1-0 win over Lichtenstein in November. Birkirkara's Paul Fenech set to replace Briffa.
Chedin wants his side to produce a robust performance despite it being a friendly. He said: "I am sure they will produce a stern challenge. We have to be very careful. Most of their players play in England's Premier League and the Championship and that shows they are a very valid team."