Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Healy’s not pasta his best: Aaron

Northern Ireland skipper Aaron Hughes will be hoping to serve up a treat tonight against San Marino

Northern Ireland’s captain marvel Aaron Hughes believes goalscoring machine David Healy is back to his best.

And the Fulham centre half, who has played with Healy from youth football right up to international level, expects the Killyleagh born hotshot to create havoc against little San Marino this evening.

Healy has endured a torrid time at club level with a failure to gain regular game time at Sunderland the main bone of contention.

But two goals in two games for the Black Cats last week has Healy smiling again and Hughes, who Healy played with at Fulham, insists the 28-year-old has returned to his former self.

Burnley’s Martin Paterson, who is expected to start tonight alongside Healy, has been receiving all the plaudits recently for his unbelievable scoring exploits with the Clarets.

Hughes though insists Healy is Northern Ireland's main man and ranks him there alongside England great Alan Shearer in terms of exceptional finishing.

"I've noticed a difference in David,” says Hughes, who will win his 64th cap when he leads his country out tonight.

“It's good he's back and involved again. He is that type of player. He needs to be playing and involved to get the best out of him.

"One thing he'll do is score goals. He has shown that at Sunderland - he's notched a couple in his last two games. It’s great to have David bouncing back again and from a Northern Ireland point of view, it's brilliant.

"He is as good a finisher as I've played with. I've played with natural finishers in Alan Shearer and Kevin Phillips (for a bit at Villa) and David is up there in terms of pure finishing ability.

"If you throw five balls into the box at him, there's a good chance at least three will hit the back of the net.

"That's why it's good to see him back playing consistently and regularly again.

“If I had to describe David, it would be 'natural finisher'."

Hughes is upbeat and confident mood ahead of this “banana skin” World Cup qualifier.

He’s not even contemplating anything other than victory against a side who have never won a competitive match.

He expects Northern Ireland to record a similar result to the 4-0 thrashing Worthington’s men inflicted on San Marino in Belfast.

But he will respect them because only three weeks ago non-league Kettering nearly shocked his Fulham side in the FA Cup.

"There is an incentive for them. They are looking for their first competitive win and it's a big carrot for them,” admits Hughes."They might think they can get it against us because they're at home. But we too have an incentive - to throw ourselves back up the group.

"Yes we will have played a game more, but the opportunity if there to go joint-second ahead of the two home games against Poland and Slovenia.

"A good win here would set us up well and get us back in the mix and we can go into the next two games with a lot to play for.

"The incentive is there for us to come out the back of our next three games in contention come the start of April.

"This is a game we can‘t write off however. It won't be easy. It's not a banker. But it is a game in the group where we are targeting all three points.

"Not for one moment will there be any complacency. We will be professional and approach it with a good attitude.”

One of the main reasons Hughes insists Northern Ireland will on top of their game is the fear of losing a place in team.

Hughes marvels at the fact when he came into the squad 11 years ago, the team could basically pick itself. But now Worthington has options in every position and this delights the Northern Ireland skipper.

"We have come a long way,” points out Hughes. “We have strength in depth now and options. It used to be we had options in only one or two positions.

"But now we have at least two options in all positions - and those options are playing regularly or at a good level.

“That is terrific for a nation our size."

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