Ian Baraclough told his young Northern Ireland players to be “very, very proud” of their display in a goalless World Cup qualifying draw with Switzerland on Wednesday.
Though they needed another penalty save from Bailey Peacock-Farrell to avoid a defeat on the night, Northern Ireland created the better chances from open play and more than matched a side ranked 37 places above them in the world.
The draw leaves Northern Ireland three points behind Switzerland in Group C, but with the same opposition up next they still retain a chance to go second.
Both sides were missing key players on the night, but without the likes of Jonny Evans, Stuart Dallas, Corry Evans, Josh Magennis and Paddy McNair, Baraclough again had to name a youthful line-up but was rewarded with industry and purpose.
“We had to be patient, compact, resolute and organised, and we had that in abundance,” Baraclough said.
“We tried to control the ball when we had it and be positive. Sometimes we lacked that killer ball but we still looked dangerous and I was energised by what I saw in the performance, and the enthusiasm, and the crowd clearly played their part in that and I was very, very proud.
“You look at the players that were missing, take nothing away from the boys coming in, but Jonny, Corry, Paddy McNair, Josh, Stuart Dallas, they’re big, big players.
“So to put in a performance like that against a top nation, albeit missing players as well, it gives us nothing to fear next month when we go to Geneva in search of the points.”
Peacock-Farrell took the headlines with his penalty save, but there was another assured display in midfield from Ali McCann; Daniel Ballard and Ciaron Brown looked strong either side of Craig Cathcart; and Shayne Lavery was a constant thorn in Swiss sides with his directness and pace.
The Blackpool striker (22) had the best chance of the game just nine minutes in when he caught the Swiss defence napping to run at goal, only to send his shot narrowly wide with only the goalkeeper left to beat.
“He scares the life out of defenders,” Baraclough said of the ex-Linfield frontman, who scored his first international goal in last week’s 4-1 win over Lithuania.
“I’d have hated playing against him, he’s always on the move, he’s always looking to get in behind, you can’t push up too high and leave that space or he’ll be away. I just spoke to him in there about his chance. He went for power rather than precision, but he’ll learn.
“When he got away from the defenders I thought he’d done everything right, he actually calmed himself down before the final strike and I thought he was going to put it one side or the other. He went for power but you learn through experience.”
Peacock-Farrell made a crucial penalty save on Thursday when Lithuania were threatening to come from 2-0 down to equalise in Vilnius, and he came up big again to deny Haris Seferovic just after the half-hour mark when Michael Smith was penalised for a push on Ruben Vargas.
It means the goalkeeper, on loan at Sheffield Wednesday from Burnley, has not been beaten in the last four penalties he has faced for club and country, saving three and seeing one hit the post.
“People get reputations,” Baraclough said. “He gets in the mind of the opposition. He’s a big goalkeeper, he looks big in the goal, and he can go either side with great reflexes.
“It’s great for a defence to know that a keeper is in good form, controlled and calm and he’s what? 24? It’s not bad, is it?”