McAuley scores as Jim watches

IPSWICH Town skipper Gareth McAuley put Northern Ireland on the road to a victory which manager Nigel Worthington is convinced has put his team on the right course to qualify for next year's World Cup finals.

IPSWICH Town skipper Gareth McAuley put Northern Ireland on the road to a victory which manager Nigel Worthington is convinced has put his team on the right course to qualify for next year's World Cup finals.

McAuley's early goal, his first on his 14th appearance for his country, was followed by strikes from Chris Brunt and Grant McCann as Northern Ireland beat minnows San Marino.

In the process they propelled the team into second place in Group Three on goal difference, although they have played a game more than their rivals.

It was just the result Worthington wanted with back-to-back home fixtures to come against Poland Slovenia next month.


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He said: "The goal was to get the three points and we achieved that to go second in the table.

"That sets us up nicely for the match against Poland. We have played a game more but we are back in the mix.

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"It was a very professional, solid performance tonight. We scored three goals and kept a clean sheet so it was very pleasing. I was delighted with our attitude.

"People might say it is only San Marino but you still have to go out and do the job. The big plus was getting an early goal. That settled everyone down.'

McAuley has been playing at right-back rather than centre-half for Nigel Worthington's side, but says he isn't bothered so long as he is involved.

McAuley said: “There was a time when I thought I would never play for my country again.

“I was so down and honestly thought that I had no international future. It went through my head that there was no point being involved in a squad when I wasn't going to play.

“But then I was picked by the manager against Sweden and my international career turned full circle.”

The match in San Marino was watched by Ipswich boss Jim Magilton, who was summarising for BBC2 Northern Ireland.

Magilton will be waiting anxiously for news on Veliche Shumulikoski who played 25 minutes Macedonia's friendly against Moldova in Antalya, Turkey, last night.

The 27-year-old has featured just once in the Blues first team since the 2-1 home defeat by Cardiff City on December 13 - the FA Cup victory over Chesterfield on January 3.

He has not sat on the bench for the last three matches, but is expected to be recalled when Town entertain Blackpool in a 'must-win' Coca-Cola Championship game at Portman Road on Saturday.

Alan Quinn and David Norris picked up their fifth bookings of the season at the Liberty Stadium against Swansea last weekend, and both will sit out the visit of Blackpool as they serve one-match suspensions.

Alex Bruce was left out of the Republic of Ireland 18 as they beat Georgia 2-1 in Dublin.

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