Battling display points to brighter future, says Steven Davis
Published 17/10/2013 | 12:00
Northern Ireland's players were united in optimism after they rounded off a challenging World Cup qualifying campaign with a show of character in Israel.
Having racked up three successive defeats, two of which came at the hands of Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, few gave Michael O'Neill's side much chance of ending the unwanted streak in Tel Aviv.
Stripped of the suspended Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley as well as the injured Aaron Hughes, they looked particularly light at the back but battled hard to leave with a 1-1 draw courtesy of captain Steven Davis' 72nd-minute equaliser.
It is hardly a result to rank alongside the famous wins over Spain and England, but it showed plenty of heart and left the squad collectively looking to better things.
Southampton midfield ace Davis, ending his first qualification period as skipper on a bright note, said: "It was important for us to finish the group on high.
"We had spoken about that before the game because there has been a lot of work put into the campaign with little reward.
"We've been able to compete in each and every game but we haven't really had the results to show that.
"This gives us something to build on for the future but I thought this time we got a decent result back."
Huddersfield Town striker Martin Paterson was on hand to remind his colleagues that there was room left for improvement.
Paterson pointed out there was no celebration without victory – but also left Tel Aviv seeing welcome signs.
"We might have won it with my volley late on – I twisted and turned and hit it but unfortunately the keeper got there and saved it," he said.
"We really wanted that winner and it didn't come but we're all proud of the way we dug in and got back in it because Israel are a decent side.
"I don't think it was a celebration in the dressing room but we were happy in the sense that we got a good result.
"There's also a sense of looking back thinking with the way we've played at times in the campaign, that we should probably have been knocking on the door of qualification to be honest.
"If we look back I really think we could have been in touching distance."
Northern Ireland manager O'Neill will now await news of a potential November friendly as he looks to maintain some of the feelgood factor.
"I'm the same as any international manager," commented O'Neill.
"You want as much time as you can get with your players and we will look to address that in the next week or so."