Ian Baraclough claimed Northern Ireland’s 1-1 draw in Romania felt like a win as they snatched an 86th-minute equaliser through Gavin Whyte after playing more than half the night with 10 men.
George Puscas tapped into an empty net with 25 minutes gone and Josh Magennis collected two soft yellow cards to be sent off six minutes before the break, but Bailey Peacock-Farrell made a string of outstanding saves to keep Northern Ireland in it.
And they were rewarded when Whyte headed home, with time left for Peacock-Farrell to make another fine save to push Denis Alibec’s rising shot on to the crossbar.
It gave Baraclough something to celebrate in his first game in charge, and Northern Ireland their first Nations League point after losing every game in the competition last time around.
“Having gone 1-0 down and with a man sent off, it feels like a victory for sure,” Baraclough said.
“The way the team went about it in the second half I thought was immense. I couldn’t applaud them enough. I felt we were the better team in the second half, knowing we had to be patient, we had to choose the right time to go and close down, the right time to try to put them under pressure.
“We played with a real purpose, a real urgency and desire to go out and get an equaliser and maybe the winner. The players’ character has never been in doubt. When the chips are down a little bit you know the guys in the dressing room are always going to work hard.”
Baraclough said he urged his side not to panic in the second half, and to wait for Romania to leave gaps behind as they pushed forward in search of a second goal.
“For me you had to be patient, go and press at the right time and we stole the ball on several occasions which could have led to more things,” he said. “That was the key. I don’t think we used the ball well in the first half, but we didn’t panic.”
Peacock-Farrell – who had not played a competitive match since Northern Ireland’s last outing in November – was the star of the show, with Baraclough crediting him with making “three or four world-class saves” after the break.
It showed why Burnley have handed the 23-year-old a new contract, if not yet a debut, a year after his move from Leeds.
Asked where the performance ranked in his career, Peacock-Farrell said: “It’s up there for me, in the manner of the game, the way it was, 10 men and 1-0 down and with the saves all at 1-0 to keep us in the game.
“They may not have been the best saves but they were important saves and that’s all I’m bothered about.
“It was just about staying in it. It was only one goal, it was obviously a difficult situation with 10 men but it’s about being patient, staying in the game for as long as possible to frustrate them, and that’s what we did.”
The point was all the more satisfying given that it came without the absent Jonny Evans, who did not travel for personal reasons, with Arsenal’s Daniel Ballard impressing on his debut.
The 20-year-old had expected to be playing for the Under-21s on Friday but got a senior call-up when Tom Flanagan withdrew from the squad before Evans’ absence promoted him to the starting line-up.
“He was going to get asked questions on his debut,” Baraclough said. “He’s not played in over a year since having an ACL operation, so for a kid that’s played his first game at international level he’s handled that very, very well.”
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