Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has said relegation into the bottom tier of the Nations League is “not in our plans”.
Baraclough’s men are bottom of League C Group Two and have yet to win a Nations League game in 14 attempts.
Kosovo travel to Belfast on Saturday before the final game away to Greece on Tuesday and the bottom side in the group will face a relegation play-off.
“Yeah, we don’t want to drop into the fourth tier,” said Baraclough.
“That’s not in our plans and results in these Nations League are key for coefficient points going into the next draw, which is only next month.
“We know what’s ahead of us and the players are fully focused on getting a win.”
Baraclough was booed by a small number of supporters following June’s 2-2 draw at home to Cyprus, a match which marked a winless run of four games in 12 days.
Jonny Evans’ injury-time header rescued a point for the hosts who also drew away in Cyprus, lost at home to Greece and suffered a 3-2 defeat in Kosovo.
With growing criticism following June’s quadruple-header, Baraclough said he understands the fans’ frustrations as Northern Ireland’s winless run in the competition stretched to 14 matches.
“You want your team to win games. It’s nothing different to what players and coaches feel as well, frustration and you know, at times fans want to vent that frustration.
“It’s part and parcel of the game, it’s part and parcel of my role and to manage that with the players as well.
“It’s modern day football unfortunately, at times, because you don’t want players to feel uptight, not want to risk certain things, whether it’s in the final third and play their natural game, but no, we understand that and there’s only one way to turn them back on side and that’s winning games.”
NI in a much better place than June
Baraclough added that “winning breeds confidence” and says the team’s full focus is on ending that winless run against Kosovo at Windsor Park on Saturday.
“You’re bringing younger players in or you’re integrating new players, you know there’s nothing better than a win and this home game against Kosovo is all we are concentrating on.
“The results weren’t what we wanted in June but certainly large parts of our play that we were pleased with and we’ve looked back on and you try and replicate that going into these games as well, try and build on what we’re trying to do and look the lads have come in, in a really good headspace, if you like, and are raring to go.
“I think we are in a much better place, whether it’s fitness wise, we’ve got a slightly more experienced squad, more of a look to it that you would be familiar with but still the sprinkling of young players that have come in and done well.”
Baraclough has a fresh squad to pick from for the two matches and welcomes West Ham Under-21 head coach Mark Robson into his backroom team for September’s two Nations League matches.
The manager also revealed Leeds United wide man Stuart Dallas will link up with the squad as he continues his recovery from a broken leg.
“He’ll be coming in, he’s not in yet but he’ll be having a few days with us, as we said we want to play a part in his rehab,” added Baraclough.
“I think he’s probably at the end of his tether doing the same ritual, day in day out at Leeds, so a change of environment for him will be good and it will be good to have him around the lads.
“He is involved and he can play a part with me and the coaching staff as well in certain things and we can give him an early pointer as to his coaching career and see where that is.
“It will be good to pick his thoughts, pick his brains say, good to have people like that around.”