Gareth McAuley’s suggestion that the atmosphere at Windsor Park is not what it once was has certainly got the Northern Ireland fans talking.
After Tuesday night’s 2-0 defeat to Israel West Brom defender McAuley said that something had changed for the worse in the stands of the south Belfast venue.
Quoted in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph he said: “Things have changed here over the years, it’s different.
“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 anymore”.
As fans digested his comments last night many felt the heart of the problem was that players were no longer producing the goods on the park.
While virtually all of the Green and White Army are realistic enough to understand giant-killing victories over the likes of England, Spain and Sweden would not carry on forever they do feel short-changed by current results.
Michael O’Neill’s men have now gone 13 games without victory and it simply isn’t good enough for many fans who paid out as much as £75 for tickets to the Russia and Israel double header.
Joel Pattison, from Templepatrick, said: “I would say that the results are the reason that things are quite flat now because fans don't want to spend the money to watch the team under perform against teams like Azerbaijan.
“I think Gareth McAuley was wrong to say what he did because in my opinion the fans are still behind the team.
“The players need to give 100 per cent and show commitment each game to change things.
“Personally I think the IFA need to look at different options after the campaign and see if Michael O’Neill is still the right option.”
David Jackson, from Glengormley, believes the players need to start taking more responsbility.
“It used to be the players played for the green shirt, now it’s all about the money and playing for their clubs,” he said.
“Players seem to pick and choose when they want to play for their country. Of course results help fans get behind the team, but when the fans pay good money, the least they expect is effort from the players.
“If some players, like Chris Brunt, played as well for their country as they do for their clubs, we would be doing a lot better. The players need to look to themselves and not blame the fans.”
The main frustration for Larne man Gary Peoples is that he feels the calibre of players is higher than four years ago, yet the results are worse.
“I would ask Gareth McAuley and the rest of his team mates are they as committed to the cause as they once were?” he said.
“I don’t expect us to be world beaters but we have about four or five players that play in the English Premier League and other players who play at a decent standard and they can’t beat the likes of Malta. This is not the worst squad Northen Ireland have ever had and the performances could be better.”
Brian Robinson, however, came out in support of McAuley’s comments.
He said: “To a certain degree he's right as there are a lot of fans who have either forgotten or never went to see us during the ’90's when we really were hard to watch and couldn't buy a goal for love nor money.
“In the last few games if we had a young David Healy up front we would have won them all.”
Bangor man Rod Ferris also came out in agreement with McAuley: “I totally agree the atmosphere has been slightly low key the last couple of years, mainly due to the results and the high expectations from both media and supporters alike.
“The highs of 2007-10 have come and gone and we all need to dig deep to bring them back.
“I’m glad Gareth McAuley has spoken out, he will be leading us for years to come and, like Keith Gillespie and David Healy, he will become the backbone and a role model for the fans.”