Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill admitted his side remain “miles away” from where they want to be after a sterile stalemate in Cyprus on Wednesday night.
O’Neill’s men were second best to a Cypriot side ranked 122nd in the world, but got away with a goalless draw in spite of playing the final 15 minutes with 10 men following Gareth McAuley’s red card.
The game was a dire spectacle which will be easily forgotten by the sparse crowd, while O’Neill was left with little suggestion that Northern Ireland are heading in the right direction.
The side had neither won nor scored in 12 away friendlies since beating Finland in 2006 coming into the match and that sorry sequence continued at a deserted GSP Stadium.
O’Neill, who has yet to win away from home more than two years since taking the job said: “People have to realise we are trying to build an international team here and it will take time.
“We are miles away from being the finished article. We weren’t good in possession and they were better on the ball.
“They put us under pressure because we continually gave the ball away cheaply and that was the most disappointing thing on the night. In the second half we were better, we had one or two half-chances, but the lads know we are capable of a lot more than that.
“We had a number of players who were not quite at the pace of the game so a draw, given the level of performance, probably isn’t the worst result we could have got.”
O’Neill did not feel aggrieved by McAuley’s dismissal, the latest player to be sent off under O’Neill’s reign, following Chris Brunt, Kyle Lafferty and Jonny Evans, and his manager felt it was a 50-50 call.
“It looked like the guy was possibly through so Gareth was given a decision to make and stretched to get there,” he said.
“I would want to see it again but I wouldn’t say it was totally unjustified.
“In a friendly game could the referee have given a yellow? Possibly, because their player wasn’t through the middle of the pitch, he was coming from the wide area.
“But we gave the ball away poorly and it was disappointing to see one of our defenders put in that position.”
Northern Ireland had briefly looked as though they might end their shocking goal drought in away friendlies, seeing plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges culminating in Niall McGinn finding Martin Paterson at the near post in the 12th minute.
The Huddersfield striker got a strong header away but was denied by a fine reaction stop.
“I thought we started the game brightly and had a good chance saved but we lost our way a little bit after that,” he said.
“It wasn’t the level of performance we were capable of.”