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McAuley aims to put things right

Defender Gareth McAuley has called on Northern Ireland to bounce back from their "horror show" against Luxembourg by seeing off Azerbaijan.

A 3-2 defeat at the Stade Josy Barthel last month was the nadir of a World Cup qualifying campaign that has seen Northern Ireland stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Portugal and Russia only to falter against Group F's so-called minnows.

Michael O'Neill's side drew at home to both Azerbaijan and Luxembourg prior to their defeat by the latter, meaning Friday night's clash in Baku is the final chance to take three points from a lower-ranked nation.

O'Neill was fuming after the last attempt went spectacularly wrong and West Brom defender McAuley, one of his most senior men, provided a typically honest assessment of where that left the team.

"We weren't good enough individually or collectively in Luxembourg. It was obviously a bit of a horror show but we've got this game now to try and put things right," he said.

"It wasn't just one person, the whole team couldn't pass it from A to B and that gave them confidence to come at us.

"We lost shape and discipline and we were expected to win it so you end up trying to do a little bit more, things you wouldn't normally do.

"We ended up causing ourselves problems and shooting ourselves in the foot. It was an embarrassing defeat."

O'Neill has hinted that he will make changes for the match - primarily linked to individuals who have struggled for playing time at their clubs, rather than those who erred last time out - but McAuley, who has scored in his last two internationals, is certain to be on duty.

He readily admits the manager bared his teeth in the aftermath of his worst result to date, but accepted it was necessary.

"Obviously Michael was angry, but you expect that," he said.

"As a manager you're emotional and involved in the game, you blow your top and say what you need to say.

"Everyone accepts that and nobody can say otherwise or have any real defence.

"Things were said and taken on board and everyone is here now to try and put things right.

"We're not here to entertain this time, we're here to get a result."

Despite being as fiercely passionate as ever about the national shirt, McAuley also confessed that thoughts of retirement had begun to surface.

O'Neill is desperate to have him around for one more campaign but no agreement has yet been reached.

McAuley, who turns 34 in December, will not rush into a decision but plans to weigh up his options in the coming months.

"It's a tough one. I don't think I'm going to retire but when the next (qualifiers) come around I'll have another pre-season under my belt and maybe I'll make that decision at that stage, when we see how things are going.

"I've had conversations at home with family and obviously with my club as well. There's no conclusion being drawn at the moment and as it is I feel fine to carry on doing it so it's every day as it comes.

"If I have to make a decision it would probably be around pre-season next year."


From Belfast Telegraph