FOOTBALL: Gareth McAuley will play with West Brom U23s to be at his best for Northern Ireland play-offs

Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley
Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley

Gareth McAuley is determined to reach peak physical condition for Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off next month, even if it means playing for West Brom's Under-23s.

The 37-year-old headed off for international duty last week having accumulated only 62 minutes of senior football due to a thigh injury that prevented him from being fit for the start of the season.

McAuley completed 90 minutes against Germany on Thursday and Norway three days later, and if fit will add to his 74-cap collection in November now that Northern Ireland's place in the play-offs has been confirmed.

Yet he is not assured of a place in his club's team before then as Tony Pulis has preferred newcomer Ahmed Hegazi, Craig Dawson and McAuley's international team-mate Jonny Evans even when playing a back three.

The prospect of playing in Premier League 2 fixtures with the development squad over the next month is one McAuley is open to.

"Obviously being injured at the start of the season was not ideal as I wasn't able to challenge for a place," McAuley said

"I've got two games under my belt here and I just have to go back, train well and see what happens there.

"I'll try and get some football anyway, even if it's with the 23s or with the first team, I need to make sure I maintain fitness going into the games next month."

McAuley could be tasked with trying to shackle a Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale next month depending on who Northern Ireland get when the play-off draw is made on October 17.

Their chances of being seeded for the draw would have been enhanced had they beaten Norway in Oslo on Sunday, but a disappointing 1-0 loss has left them more open to facing one of the continent's heavyweights.

"A two-legged game, home and away, is difficult anyway, no matter who we get," McAuley said.

"Hopefully the draw will be favourable for us but all the teams that are going to be involved there will be good sides."