After throwing away a two-goal advantage, Gareth McAuley says Northern Ireland showed battling spirit to fight back and rescue an entertaining 3-3 draw with Finland last night.
Two goals from Shane Ferguson and Kyle Lafferty inside the opening 20 minutes put Michael O’Neill’s men in the driving seat at Windsor Park, before the visitors pulled one back, with Tim Sparv heading home. Minutes later, Teemu Pukki levelled matters when he capitalised on a poor back-pass from Chris Brunt.
An unstoppable Perparim Hetemaj free-kick midway through the second-half gave the Finns the lead, before a late Martin Paterson penalty salvaged a draw.
Speaking to the Times after the match, Larne man McAuley - who enjoyed a full 90 minutes at the heart of defence - admitted some of the team’s play was untidy, but said there were poisitves to build on ahead of next month’s World Cup qualifier against Russia.
“I think it was important we came back into the game and got a draw after the previous two results. We played well in patches and, at other times, we were sloppy with the ball, and sloppy without the ball.
“It’s early in the season and we’re trying to bring across what we’ve been doing in training. Obviously, it’s different to what you do at your club but we’re adapting to it. We only had two days, really, to work on things in training. Hopefully, come the Russia game and the week leading up to it, we can get the ideas across again.
“Russia have some fantastic players in their squad. We know it’s going to be tough but we won’t be fearful going into the game - it’s a challenge. We have got to draw from our experiences in previous campaigns and we have got to pass that on to the lads who haven’t been there, done that yet.”
Next up for the West Brom defender is the visit of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool as the Premier League kicks off on Saturday.
“It’s a massive game but we want the big clubs like Liverpool coming to us, so it will be a big challenge. We have done a lot of work in pre-season and, hopefully, we are ready for it,” he said.
“It’s been really good working under Steve Clarke. It’s been a little bit different to what we had done with Roy Hodgson but it’s been both enjoyable and tough in pre-season. We have worked really hard but we feel fit and strong so it’s all in the tank and, hopefully, we can take that on to the pitch.”
And the 32-year-old was full of praise for Rodgers who hails from Carnlough - a village just a matter of miles from where McAuley grew up.
“It is a great achievement for Brendan to have been appointed as Liverpool boss. He did fantastically well at Swansea and won all the plaudits last year,” he said.
“They played with great style and his players play with no fear and that’s something that’s hard to come by. He’ll change the style at Liverpool, they will play the way he wants to play. He has already got off to a good start and a lot of the supporters are right behind him.”
Report by John Gillespie | Twitter: @Times_Sport