McAuley left frustrated as NI draw

Gareth McAuley has spoken of his frustration at last night’s 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan after Northern Ireland squandered a string of glorious chances in the World Cup qualifier.

With the game just five minutes old, Rauf Aliyev stunned the Windsor Park faifthful when he gave the visitors the lead with a long-range strike. A series of gilt-edged opportunities came and went before substitute David Healy rode to the rescue to net his 36th international goal with a last-gasp free-kick.

While he was disappointed not to take three points from the game, central defender McAuley said Michael O’Neill’s men were “miles better” than the visitors and described the encounter as a mismatch.

“Every Northern Ireland player on the pitch probably missed a chance tonight and we’re disappointed with that aspect. It was a mismatch in terms of what we did in the game compared to them, but that’s football sometimes when you don’t get the rub of the green.

“The crowd was right with us all night; the Kop was bouncing for the first time in a long time, so it was good to see and we are going to need that with the rest of the games we have coming up.”

After the confidence-boost that came from the draw away to Portugal last month, the West Brom star maintained the squad is going through a transition period and called on fans to remain upbeat.

“I definitely don’t think we played badly, we just didn’t score the goals we needed to win the game. It does take time to do the things you’re asked and get it working like clockwork, but, I think out there we played well, we just didn’t get the result.

“Michael (O’Neill) understands it’s a work in progress. There are a lot of young lads in that team who are finding their way at this level and they are performing fantastically well. Everyone has just got to stick with them and get behind them.

“All we can do is give the best we can in every single game and when we put that shirt on, give everything we can and I think the crowd appreciated that tonight, they stuck with us and, obviously, the result against Portugal gave them a bit of belief. But it is a transition for Northern Ireland and we’ve got to accept that and stay positive.”

He added: “Reflecting on the match now, it’s frustrating. We were miles better than them, we had them under the cosh and we missed chance after chance and that’s the frustrating thing. But we will take the positives out of it... that we played well and created the chances.”

Report by John Gillespie | Twitter: Times_Sport