McAuley: Northern Ireland fans not doing enough to support us
Gareth McAuley has hit out at what he sees as a lack of atmosphere at Windsor Park, claiming that fans no longer inspire the Northern Ireland team the way they once did.
McAuley's controversial comments are sure to infuriate some supporters who paid hard-earned cash to see their team lose 2-0 at home to Israel on Tuesday night, ending any hopes of World Cup qualification in the process.
There were 10,400 fans inside Windsor on Tuesday and although the noise levels were not as high as they have been on great nights in the past, the crowd tried to roar the team on to victory.
It wasn't to be with Israel scoring two late goals to defeat Northern Ireland who have now gone 13 games without a win – nine of those with Michael O'Neill in charge.
There were some boos after the match but not to the same degree as Nigel Worthington's final few games as boss.
The West Brom defender acknowledged that the team must start picking up results but McAuley feels more vocal backing would help the players achieve that.
"Things have changed here over the years, it's different," said former Crusaders and Coleraine star McAuley.
"The crowd used to drive us through games. The crowd used to get us results and for some reason that's changed now.
"It used to be 'we'll support you evermore' but it doesn't seem to be that way any more."
"We've lost the crowd slightly. Obviously we've got to get results and get them back with us but if we can do that together we'll be better," he said.
McAuley's view will certainly stir up debate among the Green and White Army who pride themselves on supporting the national side and have actually won awards for it.
Spokesman for the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs Gary McAllister said he respected McAuley's view, adding that he wants to see togetherness between the team and fans, rather than any sort of split in the ranks.
"Gareth has always been a tremendous servant for his country, he's a very passionate player," McAllister said.
"I wouldn't want to see any divide between the players and the fans and I certainly don't think that is the case – we've always enjoyed a tight-knit relationship.
"Fans can become frustrated and sometimes when results don't come things are a bit flat.
"However, it only takes one thing to spark the crowd in a match and there's certainly no evidence that the fans are ready to turn on the players or manager."
The famous atmospheres McAuley refers to in recent years came off the back of epic victories against England in 2005 and Spain in 2006.
The Larne man points out, though, that those were isolated encounters and Michael O'Neill's men must be much more consistent if they are to move anywhere near the qualification reckoning.
"We've had good nights and one-off games but we haven't managed to qualify for a major competition, since I've been involved anyway," he said.
"We have been there or thereabouts and had a chance in groups but we haven't quite done that. It's frustrating and disappointing."
Reflecting on the 2-0 Israel defeat, which leaves Northern Ireland fourth in Group F, the towering defender believed the performance merited a result, however he accepted that key moments at both ends of the pitch sealed their fate.
"We restricted them to very little," McAuley added.
"It was the same story again because it was a game we should have had something out of it.
"Although we had a lot of entries into the final third we didn't have chances like they had for their goals."