Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill admitted his side were not good enough in the final third as they had to settle for a goalless draw against Malta in last night’s friendly at the Ta’qali National Stadium.
The visitors had the ball in the net in the 18th minute, with Gareth McAuley’s header disallowed for pushing, but aside from that they had very few clear-cut chances and did not force Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg to make a serious save.
In contrast, Northern Ireland goalkeeper Alan Mannus, standing in for the ill Roy Carroll, made two terrific second-half saves from Malta captain and former Coventry striker Michael Mifsud.
O’Neill said: “It was a difficult game in that the conditions weren’t particularly conducive to trying to play. The pitch was difficult, very bumpy, the wind obviously didn’t help matters.
“But overall, while we never really seemed in any great danger and we controlled large portions of the game, we didn’t create enough chances.
“They were very well-organised and at times we played into their hands a little bit with our choice of passing. I think at times a little bit of our inexperience in certain areas of the team showed up tonight.”
The draw took O’Neill’s record to eight games without a win since taking over from Nigel Worthington late in 2011, while Northern Ireland have not won a game since beating the Faroe Islands in August of that year.
They have particularly struggled away from home and remarkably their last goal in an away friendly came in a win over Finland six-and-a-half years ago.
“You want to win games, simple as that,” said O’Neill. “We’ve had eight games, we’ve had five draws and three defeats. Of course it’s a concern but at the end of the day the only people who can change that are myself and the players.”