Neil Critchley mulls over how many games Arsenal loanee Dan Ballard will miss for Blackpool following international call-up

Neil Critchley admits Dan Ballard’s return to action will depend on whether he features in Northern Ireland’s final game of the international break.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 10:59 am

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Neil Critchley admits Dan Ballard’s return to action will depend on whether he features in Northern Ireland’s final game of the international break.

The centre-back is due to link up with Ian Baraclough’s squad following this weekend’s game against Oxford United.

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Northern Ireland face Italy in Parma in their first World Cup qualifier on Thursday, March 25, before taking on USA in a home friendly on Sunday, March 28.

Their third and final game comes against Bulgaria in Belfast on Wednesday, March 31.

Ballard will certainly miss Pool’s games against Peterborough United and Plymouth Argyle, but whether he returns for the Good Friday trip to Swindon Town remains up in the air.

“It depends on whether he plays in that final game,” Critchley admitted to The Gazette.

Ballard will link up with his Northern Ireland teammates next week

“They play Bulgaria on Wednesday night, so it would depend if he started the game and how long he played.

“It’s a World Cup qualifier, so they’ll go with their strongest team and rightly so. I’ll just have to sit there on the sofa with my fingers crossed hoping he comes through okay.”

Ballard’s call-up comes at a bad time for the Seasiders, who are already without centre-backs Daniel Gretarsson and Marvin Ekpiteta through injury.

But Gretarsson and Ekpiteta are both making good progress in their recovery and Critchley feels Pool are well prepared to deal with Ballard’s absence.

“We were expecting it, it was something I had been thinking about for a number of weeks,” Pool’s head coach said.

“I knew the international break was coming and with the form Daniel was in, I was fully expecting him to get called up.

“It’s something we had been thinking about and preparing for, so any time anyone gets called up for their international team it’s a great moment for them.

“Ideally we’d want him to stay here and play for us because he’s been doing brilliantly well for us, but to have that experience as a young player to play in some top games is a fantastic opportunity for him.”

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