Wales boss Chris Coleman focused on the positive aspects of a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland that came without Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
In a Euro 2016 warm-up in Cardiff between two home nations bound for France, Michael O’Neill’s visitors led on the hour mark through Craig Cathcart’s finish on the turn after the Welsh had failed to deal with a short corner.
However, while the visitors equalled an all-time record in stretching their unbeaten run to nine games, Simon Church won and converted a penalty in stoppage time to deny Northern Ireland a first win over Wales since 1980.
For the hosts, missing their two star names due to injury, Coleman claimed the run-out was a worthwhile exercise.
“We worked hard; we found it difficult to break Northern Ireland down – they were very well organised, strong and experienced,” he said.
“We got what we wanted out of it. We didn’t lose, which was important because we were 1-0 down with five minutes to go. We got something out of the game.
“More importantly, for the stage we’re at going into the tournament, one or two of the lads got a bit more experience, they got a taste of it and that just makes the group that we’ve got, the strength in depth, a little bit bigger going into the summer.”
Without the world’s most expensive player, Arsenal midfielder Ramsey and converted forward Hal Robson-Kanu, Coleman opted for Sam Vokes up front before introducing match-winner Church from the bench.
“The first questions people ask me at every international press conference are on Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, I understand that,” Coleman added.
“From my point of view, your Sam Vokes and your Simon Churches – they never ever fail to be here.
“They always do their best, are great guys to have in the dressing room and they’re playing well at the minute. We’ve got good options there and that’s pleasing.”
Coleman’s counterpart O’Neill also experimented, both with personnel and formation, as Paddy McNair excelled in an unfamiliar midfield berth while Conor Washington was handed a maiden international start in the city he used to live in.
And they were on course for their first victory in an away friendly for a decade until McAuley upended Church in the box, with a tackle which looked to have seen him take the ball anyway as the game passed 90 minutes.
“We were very disciplined in a lot of our play,” O’Neill said.
“First half we played with three at the back and there were positives in that but equally things we need to work on.
“Having gone ahead it was disappointing to lose the goal in the nature that we did. I thought we looked comfortable. It’s just the nature of the goal – I haven’t seen the penalty back to see how significant the challenge was.
“I think we learned that we can play in that system. There are also things we need to work on with it as well.”