Bolton striker Dion Charles has told Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough he is ready to step up and help solve the nation’s scoring problem.
Northern Ireland have bagged only six goals in their last nine competitive fixtures, two of them in a losing cause as they went down 3-2 away to Saturday’s opponents Kosovo in June before rescuing a 2-2 draw with a late comeback against Cyprus at Windsor Park days later.
With their 14-match winless run in the Nations League putting pressure on manager Baraclough, Northern Ireland need to find solutions both in Belfast this weekend and in Tuesday’s match away to group leaders Greece.
Charles is yet to break his international duck in 11 appearances for Northern Ireland, all as a substitute, but after scoring four goals in eight games for Bolton this season the 26-year-old has reported for duty full of confidence.
“I had a conversation with Ian to let him know I am ready when called upon,” Charles said. “If I get the opportunity I‘m sure I will take it.
“My first aim is to get a start and I have confidence in my own ability, and the squad’s ability, that when I am on the pitch I will get chances and score.
“I just have to keep my head down and work hard in the sessions we have got and give the manager something to think about.”
Charles got his first call-up in March 2021, but admitted establishing himself in an international squad had been a very different challenge to anything he had faced before.
“It is frustrating for me because I want to be playing,” he said. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve pretty much played every game.
“Coming into the international set-up it’s a different environment I’ve had to get used to. I’ve had to find my feet and I’m just looking forward to trying to get that starting spot.
“It has always been my aim since coming into this squad is to play. International football is different to club football so I had to bide my time, but hopefully I get my chance soon.”
The pressure is on Baraclough going into Saturday’s match. Northern Ireland began play in League C talking of promotion, but go into the final two fixtures battling to avoid the drop after a dismal June in which a depleted squad turned in disjointed performances.
But Charles insisted the mood within the camp was good with a number of players back in the squad and a confidence they can turn things around this weekend.
“I think a win is coming and that could change the mood completely,” he said. “We had spells in those other games where we looked very good. We just have to get more consistency and keep creating chances.
“We have been creating but just not putting them away, but hopefully we can put that right.
“I think as a whole squad we’re in a better place this time around. We’ve got more boys playing week in, week out. We perhaps didn’t have that in June so we’re looking forward to it.”