Bailey Peacock-Farrell expects Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying bid to go down to the wire but believes Wednesday night’s performance against Switzerland proved they have the quality to get there.
Peacock-Farrell came up with a crucial penalty save for a second qualifier in a row to earn a point from the goalless draw, but Northern Ireland arguably had the better chances from open play against a side ranked 37 places above them in the world.
The point keeps Ian Baraclough’s side third in the group, three points behind the Swiss before next month’s re-match in Geneva.
“It’s very much alive,” Peacock-Farrell said of the campaign. “We are in a tough group and have got some tough games ahead but we were against a good side in Switzerland and we matched them and more.
“We are capable of doing it and we have to go and do that now. We have to take this point and make it count and take it into the next month and the month after that and put in these good performances that we have been delivering.
“Possibly it will go down to the last game.”
There were bad memories of 2017 when Switzerland were awarded a first-half spot-kick on Wednesday night – Northern Irish hopes of reaching the last World Cup were ended when the Swiss were awarded a highly controversial penalty in their qualifying play-off four years ago.
Ricardo Rodriguez, who scored that penalty four years ago, was on the pitch on Wednesday night, but to Peacock-Farrell’s surprise it was Haris Seferovic who stepped forward, hitting one down the middle that the goalkeeper clawed to safety.
Following on from his crucial save in last week’s 4-1 win over Lithuania, the 24-year-old has not been beaten in the last four penalties he has faced for club and country.
“Three saves and one that hit the post,” said Peacock-Farrell, on loan at Sheffield Wednesday from Burnley this season. “I’ll claim that as a save because I went the right way and if it was on target I’d have saved it!
“I’m confident, though the issue with goalkeepers is that you can’t go too high and you can’t go too low. You have to stay, as boring as it sounds, quite level-headed regardless of how you are doing…I’m in a good place right now physically and mentally and I’m really happy.”
Peacock-Farrell was one of six players aged 24 or under in Baraclough’s starting line-up at Windsor Park. Though largely enforced due to the absence of Jonny Evans Stuart Dallas, Josh Magennis and more besides, that was also testament to the rise of players like Ali McCann.
The 21-year-old began the international window rushing through a move from St Johnstone to Preston which was only completed in the final minutes of the transfer window.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a stressful evening,” he said of deadline day. “It was right down to the wire. It was tight. It wasn’t the nicest half and hour.”
Any stress appeared to have little affect on McCann, who impressed in both qualifiers to put down a marker that he intends to be difficult for Baraclough to leave out.
“It’s great,” he said. “Being in and around it is still quite surreal and playing in front of fans like this with some of the names that are in the squad. A lot has happened in the last two or three years for me and it’s great to be involved.”