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Basel pitch was 'unacceptable' but Northern Ireland have a bright future, insists Saville


By Paul Ferguson

Northern Ireland new boy George Saville insisted the pitch at the St Jakob-Park stadium in Basel last night was totally 'unacceptable' for a World Cup play-off.

After 24 hours of incessant rain in the Swiss city leading up to the game, groundstaff had to work right up to kick-off, clearing surface water and sprinkling sand all over the pitch.

The pitch was bumpy, it started to cut up shortly after kick-off and simple passes were a ­struggle for many of the players. The ball stopped dead on ­occasions rather than run on.

Manchester United will be playing FC Basel on this surface in the Champions League in just a couple of weeks and Millwall star Saville - who made his first Northern Ireland start last night in place of the suspended Corry Evans - says it is in terrible condition.

He said: "For me, the pitch was disgraceful, I'll be honest with you. I think it was shocking. For a game of this magnitude, this level, to play on a pitch like that I think it's unacceptable, personally.

"We're not using that as an ­excuse or blaming the conditions. We both got dealt the same cards and you get on with it."

Saville put in a strong performance in midfield and had an excellent chance to score in the second half but his shot just lacked strength and direction to really trouble Yann Sommer in the Swiss goal.

The 24-year-old, who only came into the squad for the first time in September, says he and his team-mates gave their all and it is gut-wrenching for the World Cup qualifying to be over without having secured a place in Russia.

"I gave my all for the team, as always," sighed Saville.

"The chance, it just got stuck under my feet a little bit, couldn't really get the power I wanted. Just disappointed that we haven't got anything out of the game.

"Everyone in the dressing room is proud of everyone, we left it all out there. It just hurts because of the effort you put in - but we couldn't have done any more."

Saville is one of Michael O'Neill's new recruits introduced in this qualifying series along with Jordan Jones, who made his international debut in Northern Ireland's biggest World Cup game for 31 years.

The Kilmarnock midfielder came on for Jamie Ward midway through the second half and was a menace to the Swiss down the left wing.

The 23-year-old said: "I can't really focus on my debut at the minute. Obviously, it is a proud moment for me and my family, but everyone is just devastated not to make the World Cup.

"We couldn't give anymore. I thought the players were unbelievable and it was an honour to come on the pitch and play with them."

Saville added: "There are a few bright players coming through, youngsters, so there's a lot to be encouraged by."

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