Nigel Worthington accepts that Northern Ireland are fighting to be runners-up in Euro 2012 qualifying Group C.
Italy are six points clear at the top of the table but there are a number of other teams still in the hunt for qualification.
Slovenia, Serbia, Estonia and Northern Ireland are all hoping to finish second and earn at least a play-off for a chance to make it through to Poland and Ukraine.
Worthington, currently preparing his side for Tuesday's home game against Slovenia, said: "Italy are gone.
"They are top and there are three or four of us vying for second. I said at the start of the campaign, the chasing pack will take points off each other and that has been the case so far.
"Of course I'd love to be 10 points clear at the top but we deal with the situation. We are where we are.
"Sometimes there's a lucky strike where you can get through as a country of our size. Other times it can be ongoing hard work."
While remaining upbeat, Worthington has called on fans to put his side's qualification efforts in perspective.
Northern Ireland have never yet won a place at the finals of the European Championship and the Worthington knows that is no coincidence.
"I think regardless of the group of players at the outset of every competition everyone, to a man, wants to do well and would love to qualify," he said.
"We also have to be respectful of where we are, as the song goes 'We're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland'.
"Expectations have to be managed in the proper manner and as long as our players always give 100% commitment and play with pride in the green shirt I can't ask for more than that."
The hosts have been dealt a blow with the news that first-choice frontman Kyle Lafferty is out with a knee injury, while record scorer David Healy sits out after being booked in the 2-1 defeat in Serbia on Friday.
That means Oldham forward Warren Feeney, whose fifth and last international goal came against Slovenia in April 2009, is the man charged with leading the line.
Worthington said: "He is what he is, a fantastic lad, who plays with a smile on his face and is full of energy.
"He is exactly the kind of player we need tomorrow night.
"We need that kind of player to get us off at a good tempo, lift the crowd and go from there."