Paddy McNair has told his Northern Ireland team-mates to keep believing they can qualify for Euro 2020 after their hopes took a hit with Monday’s 2-0 home defeat to Germany.
A spirited performance at Windsor Park was not enough to prevent Michael O’Neill’s side dropping their first points of the campaign as Marcel Halstenberg’s outstanding strike and Serge Gnabry’s late second proved the difference.
The result saw Germany move top of Group C, level with Northern Ireland on 12 points from five games.
But the task gets no easier for the Green and White Army, with Holland away up next and a trip to Frankfurt to come in November.
“Of course we would have taken this position at the start of the campaign,” McNair said.
“We have three really tough games to come and we go to Holland in the next game.
“Then we have them at home and Germany away, but we aren’t going to be disheartened.
“We’ll give them all a tough game. There are plenty of positives and we move on to next month.”
A frustrated O’Neill called the game a “missed opportunity” in the immediate aftermath, given the chances Northern Ireland created, including two openings for Conor Washington, during a strong start to the night.
“It’s really small margins in the game, but I thought we were brilliant in the first half,” McNair added.
“It’s definitely a massive improvement. Even in the second half, Stuart (Dallas) shot a yard wide and that could easily go the other side of the post which makes it a different game again.”
Northern Ireland might also have had the chance to level from the penalty spot just before the hour when McNair tumbled under a challenge from Toni Kroos, but referee Daniel Orsato waved away their appeals.
“I haven’t seen the penalty incident again, but I certainly felt a bit of contact,” said McNair.
“There wasn’t much contact, but I went down. I didn’t want to be in a situation where the ref thought it was a dive and then sent me off (for a second booking), but I didn’t want him to think there was no contact because I did feel it.
“It wasn’t much, but I understand why the referee didn’t give it. There was contact, though, I’ve no doubt about that. Maybe VAR would have cleared that up.”
Dallas fired wide shortly after, but that was the last clear chance for the hosts before Gnabry settled matters in stoppage time.
“It’s a good sign coming out of a game thinking we definitely should have taken something from it,” McNair added.
“It is definitely our best performance against them in recent meetings, but you can’t help but feel it was a missed opportunity.
“But we’re still joint top of the group. I know we have three difficult games coming up, but we have to stay positive considering the position we have put ourselves in.”