Cheer us, don't jeer us, Gareth McAuley tells Northern Ireland fans
Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley has urged the fans to back the team much more in their hour of need ahead of tomorrow's World Cup test against Russia at Windsor Park.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the West Brom ace was keen to point out that Michael O'Neill's side, in particular the younger players, need cheers and not jeers from the Green and White Army for the visit of Fabio Capello's stars.
It is not the first time that McAuley has spoken about the atmosphere at Windsor.
His remarks in this newspaper in March after a 2-0 defeat to Israel in a World Cup qualifier caused uproar among some fans when he insisted: "Things have changed over the years. The crowd used to drive us through games and used to get us results.
"It used to be 'we'll support you ever more' but it doesn't seem to be that way any more."
The majority of supporters criticised McAuley for speaking his mind, but some said he was spot on.
Asked for his opinion on the subject five months on, the straight talking former Coleraine hero said he had no regrets about what he said, adding that he was glad that the debate had been started as it could help focus minds.
"I said it for a reason to see what the reaction would be, not for myself, but just to see how people would respond," stated the 33-year-old, who will play at the heart of the defence tomorrow night.
"Towards the end of Nigel Worthington's reign we lost the supporters and as a team we haven't been able to get them back with us. It used to be like even if you went a goal behind in a game at Windsor Park the stadium would get louder.
"It lifted you and gave you that belief to go on and get back into games and win them.
"And even when we were winning games and we were going into the last 20 minutes having given everything we could, the one thing that would keep you going was the support of the crowd.
"It would be fantastic to get it back like that, especially for a lot of the young players in the squad who haven't been here and seen it when the place is bouncing and experienced it because when that happens it really is special.
"That's the aim for us to get the support back to that level because I think for the last two years it's felt a little flat and we need our fans to get behind us every step of the way."
Reflecting on Northern Ireland's defeat to Israel, McAuley added: "It's never nice to lose a game and it's even worse when you are getting booed off by your own crowd because you feel you have let the whole country down.
"People don't appreciate that you have run about and tried 100% and you take the criticism away with you.
"The frustrating thing is usually there's such a long time between games to put things right but now we have this match with Russia and as a group of players it's up to us to go out and perform.".