Ian Baraclough praised Luke Southwood for helping to keep Northern Ireland in the game as he made his international debut in Friday’s 3-1 win over Luxembourg.
The 24-year-old Reading goalkeeper replaced Conor Hazard at half-time at the Stade de Luxembourg.
Northern Ireland were leading 1-0 at the time but had been under pressure for much of the first half since Josh Magennis’ 16th-minute opener, and remained on the backfoot as the second half began.
Though Southwood could do little about Marvin Martin’s 58th-minute header from a corner, he made a series of saves to deny Gerson Rodrigues, Danel Sinani and Mica Pinto, preventing Luxembourg from taking complete control of the match during their best spell of the night.
“In the second half they certainly did have more efforts on goal and I felt as though he dealt with them very, very well,” Baraclough said of the eighth player he has awarded an international debut.
“He is very tidy with his hands and very good with his feet. For someone making his debut he looked very comfortable.”
Substitutes Steven Davis and Gavin Whyte came on to snatch the goals that gave Northern Ireland victory – scoring in the 83rd and 85th minutes – but Luxembourg ended the match having had more possession and more shots on goal.
Baraclough called his side’s performance a “mixed bag” but insisted he was happy with the defensive shape, saying most of Luxembourg’s shots had been from a distance.
“They were mostly from outside the box and if they’re from outside the box I’m more than happy with it,” he said. “I’ll have to look back at it, but a lot of the time it was from a little bit of sloppiness, giving the ball away and then scrambling to get back into shape.
“We need to tidy that up for Tuesday (against) Hungary. It will be a bigger test on Tuesday.”
Davis began the night on the bench and the 37-year-old played half an hour, his first action for club or country in six weeks following injury problems.
Before he came on, his composure in the middle of the park was certainly missing as Luxembourg got on top during the middle part of the game.
Baraclough said: “I think the team has been so used to him being there and it will take a while if we have a period where he’s out of the team or eventually his international career comes to end.
“That’s what good players do for the group. It’s important to have that experience. When you’re without him you have to be able to deal with it.”
Davis and Whyte were among four substitutions made by Baraclough in the 63rd minute, when Jonny Evans was brought off and replaced by Ciaron Brown.
Evans, back sooner than expected from a hamstring problem which has kept him out since December, had said on Thursday his plan was to get as far as half-time and then make a decision on how long to play, but Baraclough said 60 minutes was always the true goal.
Evans will not take part in Tuesday’s match against Hungary as he manages his return.
“The aim was an hour,” Baraclough said. “You always assess it at half-time. Probably he would have wanted to go on for longer, but it was always the plan to go for an hour.
“He’ll go back to Leicester now. Jonny will be happy, Leicester will be happy and we’re certainly happy.”