Jamie Ward upbeat despite Northern Ireland's defeat in Germany
Germany may have defeated Northern Ireland 2-0 on Tuesday night but Jamie Ward thinks only losing by two goals may be pivotal in their play-off place pursuit.
The four-time World Cup winners eased to a third straight win of the qualifying process for the 2018 tournament thanks to efforts from Julian Draxler and Sami Khedira inside the opening 17 minutes.
At that point, the travelling Green and White Army feared the worst, but their team were able to keep the hosts at bay for the remaining 73 minutes, even if they were helped by Joachim Low's side slowing to a canter.
With Norway and the Czech Republic having already lost 3-0 to Die Mannschaft in their previous two qualifiers, Northern Ireland have a minor advantage in the race for second and a possible play-off berth.
"I think you can see how the lads stuck together and team spirit really does get us a long way," said on-loan Burton forward Ward.
"We had two setbacks early on with the goals but we stuck to the style we wanted to play and luckily we didn't concede any more goals.
"I think goal difference might be crucial by the end so that result, keeping the Germans to just two goals, could be the difference with us going for second place.
"Obviously we are disappointed to lose the game but to lose 2-0 to the world champions on their home turf, we do have to take positives from the performance."
Ward, who was stationed on the left wing where he came up against the brilliant Joshua Kimmich, was one of the better performers in a green shirt as he constantly provided an outlet to relieve the pressure.
And though his evening only lasted 61 minutes, the 30-year-old knew he had played well when he checked his phone after the game in the HDI Arena.
"I'm happy with my own display in the first half," he added.
"I must have done alright because my dad text me and said, 'Well done'. He is my biggest critic so for him to text me and say, 'Well done' means the world to me and tells me that I did okay."
Ward will hope to keep his place next month when Azerbaijan visit Windsor Park for a clash which could have a significant bearing on how the group shapes up beneath Germany.
Northern Ireland's next opponents have defeated San Marino and Norway and drawn with the Czech Republic so far, not conceding a goal in the process, and Ward knows they will be no pushovers having played in the 2-0 loss in Baku three years ago.
"You can't write Azerbaijan off too early," he declared.
"We have first-hand experience three years ago of how Azerbaijan can shock you. They are going to be better than people expect.
"I know they are classed as the underdogs but if you look at us during the last two years, we were classed as the underdogs but surprised a lot of people."