McAuley has no complaints over red
McAuley was back after two matches out to bolster a defence missing Jonny Evans and Aaron Hughes, but saw his night end early when he was dismissed for a messy lunge at Dimitris Christofis.
It was debatable whether the West Brom centre-back was guilty of denying a scoring opportunity - with the incident taking place close to the touchline 30 yards out - but the 34-year-old made no attempt to blame the referee.
"I wouldn't say it was harsh, it's within the rules of the game," he said after a turgid 0-0 shutout.
"I had a split-second to make the decision because their guy made a great pass in behind.
"I saw he was getting there first so I just took everything out. I nearly walked and I was just waiting for the red card really.
"I don't know if it was good decision or a bad one or what, but it denied a goalscoring opportunity and we got the clean sheet so we move on."
While McAuley did not have any issue with the official's performance, he was more critical of what he and his colleagues contributed on the night.
It was a performance as bad as any in recent memory from Northern Ireland, devoid of attacking flair and frequently guilty of sloppy distribution.
Tellingly, it was the visiting side who were most pleased to reach the end of each half unscathed against a side ranked 122nd in the world.
"It didn't spark," admitted McAuley.
"We've all got personal standards and I don't think enough of us reached them on this occasion.
"You go away and analyse your own performance and Michael will do that for the group. Next time we get together we'll speak about what we could have done better and there will be a lot of things on that list.
"In the first half we tried to play in the wrong areas. We invited pressure from them and got nervous, making a lot of mistakes on the ball.
"We need to learn from that because there are no mugs now in international football and we've got some tough games in the group where we can't invite pressure or allow them to get on the front foot."
The game took place in a near deserted GSP Stadium, with the lure of free entry not enough to attract more than a smattering of local fans.
At times the game felt like a glorified training session, but captain Steven Davis will not accept that as a reason for his side's uninspired showing.
"The lack of atmosphere wasn't ideal but if you go looking for excuses you're going to find them," he told Press Association Sport.
"The performance in the first half was very flat and it felt like we never got going.
"It wasn't a good performance from us and it's one we're disappointed in because we were a yard off the pace, especially in the first half.
"You wouldn't say there were really any positives to take but in the second half we had a bit of spirit about us and we dug in when we went down to 10 men."
The fixture will have dampened some of the enthusiasm that was built by a relatively kind Euro 2016 draw, with Davis adding: "It's better a performance like that happens now than when the qualifiers start up again.
"But there's a lot of work to do and we need to do better."