Lightbourne: Wells will make big difference
Kyle Lightbourne says Nahki Wells’s return is “huge” for Bermuda and believes he will elevate his team-mates for their Concacaf Nations League qualifier against El Salvador on Friday.
Wells has not played for Bermuda since March 2015 because of club commitments, personal reasons and injuries, but will be central to Lightbourne’s plans as he looks to mastermind a famous victory over El Salvador.
It is not just Wells’s goal threat that is so important to the island, with Lightbourne keen to tap into the striker’s big-game experience and winning mentality.
“Nahki is huge for us,” Lightbourne said. “He’s played in a lot of big games and knows how to put himself in the right mind frame for these type of matches.
“Having someone of Nahki’s experience will help our front four cause them problems. I think we will create chances and it’s just about us taking our opportunities.”
Lightbourne does not believe Wells feels any extra pressure when he plays for Bermuda, despite the weight of expectation that comes with his status as the team’s talisman.
Unsurprisingly, Lightbourne intends to build his team around Wells, who has scored twice in his last four games for Sky Bet Championship side Queens Park Rangers, where he is on loan from Premier League outfit Burnley. “Nahki has played at Wembley on three occasions and nothing really fazes him,” Lightbourne said. “Sometimes if the team starts a little sluggish or we’re under the cosh then players like Nahki tend to want to show they have the experience and step up their game.
“One thing we have to realise is that Nahki and Reggie [Lambe’s] games have changed from their time in England. One of Nahki’s strengths is the ball into his feet in and around the box and getting shots in when the goalkeeper is not quite set. He’s very good at that and we have to play to his strengths.”
Lightbourne said he has not yet decided whether to return the captain’s armband to Wells. Lambe assumed the leadership duties in Wells’s absence, although he was replaced as captain by defender Danté Leverock in Bermuda’s 12-0 win at home to Sint Maarten last month.
“I’m going to access the mood and speak it over with the rest of the coaches,” he said. “We want everyone to feel a part of what’s going on. We will feel it out and go from there.”
El Salvador are ranked 70th in the Fifa rankings, 110 positions above Bermuda, who Lightbourne believes will be the underdogs despite their home advantage. The Central Americans have made a strong start to the Nations League qualifiers with a 2-1 win away to Montserrat and a 3-0 victory at home to Barbados. They also lost 5-0 in a friendly at home to a Brazil side featuring Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Douglas Costa last month.
“I’ve seen El Salvador play in different environments against Montserrat, Barbados and Brazil,” Lightbourne said. “There’s no disgrace in losing to Brazil; I thought they actually played pretty well. We’re going to have our work cut out for us and they will come as the favourites.”
Bermuda are fifteenth in the qualifying standings, which will determine the three divisions for the Nations League, starting in September 2019, as well as the ten remaining Gold Cup spots.