Belfast Telegraph

We've missed a trick, says Gareth McAuley

By Steven Beacom

Gareth McAuley has admitted that Northern Ireland 'missed a trick' by failing to impose themselves on Poland during the 1-0 defeat in Nice in the opening Group C clash in the Euro 2016 finals.

Arkadiusz Milik netted early in the second half to give Poland a deserved victory on a night when Michael O'Neill's side were under severe pressure for most of the game.

At the start O'Neill adopted a 5-3-1-1 formation, which was a different approach to the 4-3-3 that took Northern Ireland to the finals and the 3-5-2 which he has used in recent friendlies.

He was forced into several tactical changes during the game with Poland in complete control.

McAuley believes Northern Ireland must move forward to Thursday's game against Ukraine with a much more positive outlook.

"There was frustration and disappointment. Obviously we're disappointed to lose the game because we really wanted to take something from it," said the 36-year-old defender.

"We set up to try to take at least a point from it but it hasn't happened. We possibly made them look better than they were. Looking back, we could have been a bit more aggressive in our approach and that's the disappointing thing.

"It's an eye-opener that you can't come here to these tournaments and learn. You have to just do it. If you're going to lose you might as well do it being positive instead of just trying to take something from it.

"They are a good side and have some good players but I'm not sure their whole side is world class.

"I think we missed a trick in imposing ourselves on them. At times we could have put them under pressure and we could have played differently.

"We never had a sustained spell of pressure and had we done that, and a little earlier in the game, then it would have maybe changed things. They will feel that was comfortable for them."

Honest and thoughtful, McAuley added that that he felt the match was a throwback to years gone by.

"It's not how we've played in recent times and to be honest it felt a bit like a game from four or five years ago when it was just backs to the wall the whole time," said the West Brom star.

"They had a lot of possession and were moving us around. We weren't running around for the sake of it because you have to do it and fill in gaps but we were running to try to find work sometimes and maybe there were too many bodies in the box at times.

"It wasn't stage-fright or rabbit in the headlights for us. They just started really well. The first 20-25 minutes we couldn't get out of our own half and our own 18-yard box and we were having to defend for our lives. It wasn't easy in that heat. It was a difficult start to the game, we couldn't get up to the ball and get pressure on it."

McAuley stated that the players must get over the result quickly and move on.

"It's not the end of the world," he said.

"A lot of the lads felt dejected after the game but we were always going to have to get something from the Ukraine game. We just have to get on the front foot further up the pitch and try to get Davo (Steven Davis) on the ball a lot more than we did against Poland. He takes us up the pitch and he passes things forward, dictates the game, he might have been a little bit lost playing in that advanced position in midfield and I think we probably missed him a little bit."

Belfast Telegraph