GARETH McAuley admits he is ‘gutted’ at having to miss next month’s World Cup qualifier in Portugal.
The big West Brom defender picked up successive bookings in Northern Ireland’s two opening games – against Russia and Luxembourg – which means he’ll not board the plane for the next fixture.
McAuley’s double whammy was compounded by the disastrous 1-1 result against Luxembourg at Windsor Park on Tuesday night.
“The referee said he booked me for persistent fouling,” he said. “But my I definitely played the ball for my second caution. The guy more or less ran into me. It was disappointing, but I have to take it on the chin.
“We’ve got to move on. We know it’s going to take a disciplined display against Portugal – sadly I’ll not be there. They are one of the top European sides, with some top players. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one we can’t shirk.
“When they came to Belfast a few years back, we drew 1-1 with them. Even though Ronaldo is one of the world’s top players, when he came here, he didn’t really fancy it. We got tight to him and got about him. We’ve got to do that again.”
McAuley admits the consequences of Tuesday’s result could be crucial come the end of the qualifying campaign.
“The bottom line is, we needed a result against Luxembourg,” he added. “It didn’t matter how we got it, but picking up three points was essential.
“It’s certainly disappointing to be sitting on one point from our opening two games.
“Goals change games. We had a few ruled out for offside - I’m just now sure how accurate some of those decisions were. I didn’t see much wrong with the one Jonny (Evans) scored in the first half. The referee was very selective in some of his decisions.
“We knew they (Luxembourg) were going to get an opportunity over the course of the game. Unfortunately, the ball took a wicked deflection on its way into the net for their equaliser.
“With the experience we had out there, we should have been capable of seeing the game out.
“Sometimes you get what you deserve in football. We were too lethargic in the second half. We didn’t move well enough in possession - we didn’t keep our shape without possession.
“We’ve got to learn from that. We can’t afford to drop off the tempo in games like that or else you’ll get punished.
“There were a lot of tired legs in the second half - and it showed. They had more of the ball. With no disrespect to them, we should been up to it and not allowed them time on the ball. They controlled periods of the second half, which was disappointing.”