Rory McArdle settled back into the role of frustrated TV viewer as Northern Ireland came up short against another World Cup minnow this week.

With West Brom’s Gareth McAuley back from suspension, the dependable City defender found himself surplus to requirements in Michael O’Neill’s squad.

So he had to be content with banging the small screen while Belfast groaned about a depressing 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan.

But at least McArdle knows that the Northern Irish radar extends as far as League Two. Last month’s sudden dash from Hartlepool to Lisbon is proof of that.

McArdle did not get off the subs’ bench in Portugal after jetting straight from City’s JP Trophy triumph but the night was an experience he will treasure. It was also a reminder that it’s not only Valley Parade regulars who have noticed his consistent form this season.

With team-mates falling like flies around him, the 25-year-old has emerged as the only constant in the Bantams back four. He has responded with a string of top-notch displays, either at right back or centre half, which have caught the eye – and not just locally.

McArdle said: “As long as my club’s going well, the international side of it will sort itself. If you’re playing regularly, you’ll always be watched.

“We’ve had a good start here, matching the standards we’ve set ourselves. Hopefully it can carry on so you never know when the next qualifiers come along.

“Obviously it depends on who’s available but if I keep playing well for Bradford and we’re still climbing the table, then hopefully the opportunity will come again.”

McArdle, capped five times, is realistic enough to know that the Northern Ireland defence will take some shifting. While they might come up short in other departments, the back four is packed with Premier League experience.

But after his week in Portugal, a spot in O’Neill’s shadow squad seems secure.

McArdle said: “I loved being out there with the team, albeit only on stand-by. It’s nice to know that I’m there or thereabouts if there are suspensions, injuries or anyone’s struggling for form.

“The training with all the lads and the experience during the game is something I won’t forget.”

McArdle is confident that City can make it a season to remember. After leaving Aberdeen in the summer, he was keen to get back to English football and feels he chose well.

He said: “I knew there was a lot of quality with the players coming in and those already here. It was just a case of blending it all together and the results would come.”

Before Tuesday, City had only conceded once in the previous four games. McArdle believes they are also learning to “win ugly”.

“It’s those games that please you the most when you’re sitting in the dressing room afterwards,” he said.

“From a defensive point of view, we’re more proud of a 1-0 performance than if we beat someone by four or five. Those are nice but at the same time it shows you can do the ugly side of it.

“We’ve shown we can compete when teams are going to throw the ball in the box at every opportunity and deal with it. We can be dogged and dig in.”