Belfast Telegraph

Aaron Hughes won't get the blues over Romania defeat

By Julian Taylor

Northern Ireland are in a "great" position to advance towards the rest of their Euro 2016 qualifiers, says Aaron Hughes.

A raid on Romania, to supplement a fantastic start to Group F with three successive victories failed to materialise, with Anghel Iordanescu's team displaying the purpose which finally drove Tricolorii to top spot.

Crucially, however, Northern Ireland's failure to make capital during last Friday's 2-0 defeat at the Arena Nationala in Bucharest has not sent panic sweeping through the squad.

With nine points from four games, Hughes attests to the viewpoint that, overall, Michael O'Neill's second-placed outfit are sitting pretty.

Finland arrive in Belfast for the next qualifier in March, and they will discover that the excellent spirit imbued in the green and white camp remains intact.

"We are positive in our heads and you have to remember we're still in a great position," declared Brighton and Hove Albion defender Hughes.

"It's not as if we're sitting bottom of the group or playing catch up. Obviously losing to Romania was disappointing, but there's a long way to go and we're feeling good.

"We'll look forward to March now and the match against Finland. Of course it will be a bit of a wait but that's just the way of international football and it'll be another tough game against them.

"The work that we do in the short period of time we are together is a lot of the same stuff we've been working on for the last couple of years now. When we do meet up it's really just a case of fine tuning things."

Experienced combatant Hughes - who returned from a brief international retirement in February 2012 - has faced bitter-sweet dramas throughout his Northern Ireland career.

And the stalwart is unfazed with six group games remaining. Losing in Romania does not mark the beginning of a marked decline in fortunes, even considering the potential for injuries and suspensions.

Hughes explained: "I don't think we can be too down-hearted about what's happened. We knew Romania were going to be the top team of the group even though we went into the game on top.

"They're the best team we've played so far, and if you'd offered us nine points from the games so far we'd have taken it. There's no real reason for us to be disappointed on the grand scale, especially with a lot of games still to play.

"With all the extra attention being given to us after the start we've had to the campaign, we took confidence from that. I don't think that filtered through to us in a negative way at all.

"We knew that we were capable of coming to places like this and getting a result, but we also knew that we didn't want to be getting ahead of ourselves," he adds.

"You're going to get suspensions and injuries during a 10-match campaign.

"That's inevitable, so you just have to go and deal with it.

"We don't think about the players we don't have, we think about those that we do have, and what we need to do in a particular game.

"We will keep our heads up and there was nothing against Romania that happened which we didn't expect. It wasn't to be, we'll move on and can learn a few things along the way."

Belfast Telegraph