Belfast Telegraph

Gareth McAuley is hoping fans recall O'Neill's men like 80s heroes

By Steven Beacom

Gareth McAuley wants Northern Ireland fans to look back at the current team in years to come with the same affection that the heroes from the 1980s are afforded today.

The modern day batch sure are going the right way about it.

On Thursday night, drawing 1-1 in Wales, their unbeaten run stretched to nine games, equalling the long-standing record set twice by Billy Bingham teams in the 80s.

Michael O'Neill's men can beat the record on Monday night by avoiding defeat at home to Slovenia and of course in the summer they are going to the European Championship finals, a feat never achieved by Bingham's players, though that group had the great satisfaction of reaching the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals and winning the Home Nations Championship on two occasions.

Comparing the different eras, West Brom star McAuley said: "We want people to talk about how well we're doing and looking at us in a positive light. We want the fans to look at us fondly as they do the lads from the 80s.

"It's really good going for the record. Jimmy Nicholl is on the staff and he was playing the last time we had an unbeaten run like this. We want to keep the momentum going and everything positive. We're looking to add to that on Monday night in Belfast.

"Over the years when I've been involved it's been up and down, we have played well and got results at times but we have not always had this consistency and belief."

McAuley could consider himself a little unlucky to have given away the late penalty which allowed Wales to equalise in Cardiff. When he challenged Welsh striker Simon Church in the box in the 89th minute, the decision could have gone either way.

Fortunately for Chris Coleman's side, the referee pointed to the spot allowing Church to level Craig Cathcart's earlier effort.

The West Brom ace apologised to his team-mates after the match, even though he remained unconvinced his tackle should have led to a spot-kick.

"I was sliding to block a shot but I probably should have stayed on my feet," admitted McAuley.

"I was disappointed and took responsibility and apologised to the lads."

McAuley added that he was pleased team-mate Kyle Lafferty had found himself a new club, going to Birmingham on loan, after a frustrating lack of activity with Norwich.

"Everyone in the squad has been on to Kyle to get games and with going on loan he'll do that between now and the end of the season at Birmingham and our friendlies. With what he's done for us I thought he would have got more of a chance at Norwich, but that's football," he added.

"He's kept his head down and, to be fair to him, he's in decent nick for not having played a lot of football this season. Hopefully he'll get a few goals and get his confidence back because he's a major player for us."

Belfast Telegraph