David Healy today insisted that Northern Ireland’s World Cup dream can still come true - but only if the team up the ante in the remaining group games.
Healy was back on the goal trail again last night in the easy 4-0 victory over a dreadful San Marino side at Windsor Park, with Grant McCann, Kyle Lafferty and Steve Davis also finding the net.
The goals and the win brought much needed cheer to Northern Ireland after Saturday’s defeat in Slovenia, which meant that Nigel Worthington’s side had just one point from their opening three matches with South Africa 2010 seeming a world away.
But thanks to last night’s cruise and the other results in Group Three, there is now light at the end of the tunnel.
With the Czech Republic beating Slovenia 1-0 and Slovakia scoring two late goals to surprisingly defeat Poland 2-1, Northern Ireland are in fourth place in the table.
Slovakia with nine points are the shock group leaders, Poland and Slovenia have seven with Northern Ireland and the Czechs, who have a game in hand, on four.
The Czechs are due to play that game in hand in San Marino on November 19, the night when Worthington’s men will host Hungary in a friendly.
Northern Ireland’s next qualifier is in San Marino in February, with three points virtually guaranteed if last night’s game is anything to go by. Even with Northern Ireland’s away form!
Going into crucial matches on March 28 (Northern Ireland v Poland and Slovenia v Czech Republic) there should only be two points between the top five teams in the group, though Healy and co will have played one match more.
“We knew we had to beat San Marino and hopefully we will do that again in February,” said Sunderland striker Healy.
“It is great to get our first win of the campaign, but we know we must improve our away form and produce big performances in the rest of our home games.
“It is going to be difficult but the World Cup dream is still alive for us. We aren’t giving up on anything. We are still in there fighting.”
Healy’s goal - his 35th in 69 internationals - was his first in this campaign.
Smiling, he stated: “The famine, the drought or whatever people what to call it is over.
“It’s always nice to score at Windsor – people were probably beginning to count up the minutes again since I’d scored.
“It wasn’t one of my better goals, but when you haven’t scored in a few games you’ll take it alright.”
Manager Nigel Worthington said: “The attitude of the players was first class again.
“Yes, it's San Marino and we're not getting carried away but it's nice to get three points and to win 4-0.”
So an on field success. Tonight the Irish FA Executive Committee will discuss the off field matter of the sacking of Chief Executive Howard Wells, with William Campbell in line to become an interim Chief Executive.