Aaron Hughes doesn’t believe that the mindset of players changes for friendly internationals.
Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington has been forcing home the message that this evening’s Windsor Park friendly against Serbia must be treated as seriously as a competitive fixture.
And while it appears he has been successful in driving that home, captain Hughes insists the manager doesn’t have to bang onto his players about the importance of the game and that nobody will be saving anything when they take the field.
“You don’t think about the game being a friendly when you’re playing,” said Hughes.
“If they have a player who is clean through and he’s about to tap the ball into the net and you can make a lunge to stop him you don’t think ‘I don’t want to do this in case I collide with the post and put myself out of next week’.
“You’ve got a split second to make the decision and you do it because it comes natural.
“It’s what you do every day in training, it’s what you do in friendlies, competitive games and it doesn’t matter.
“The atmosphere that Nigel has tried to create this week is that we do the same things that we do ahead of qualifying games.
“We eat right, we stay hydrated, we train hard and train at a high tempo.
“We focus, we’ve watch DVDs of their previous games to look at their strengths and weaknesses, so we prepare exactly the same.
“As a player you just fall into game mode. Maybe Monday and Tuesday you just enjoy training, but come Wednesday and into Thursday and Friday you’re getting into ‘game mode’.
“You just switch on and when it comes to Saturday everyone has their own little ways of preparing, their little routines that they have and be ready for kick-off.
“You know there is nothing riding on the game, but you still want to put in a good performance.
“There are lads who will be getting a chance in the team and will want to put in a good performance to show the manager what they can do.
“Some who are in the team will want to protect their place for the next game.”
Worthington has named the strongest squad available to him, with Gareth McAuley, Damien Johnson, Sammy Clingan and Martin Paterson all ruled out through injuries.
The likes of Dean Shiels, Paddy McCourt and Andy Kirk are still short of international experience and Worthington may go for a little bit of experimentation, but Niall McGinn — with only five caps to his name — excelled against the Czech Republic in Prague last month and is expected to start again.
“Niall is blessed with a lot of pace and as a defender when you have someone like that up against you sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, if they can run faster than you, you can’t really do much about it,” said Hughes.
“The manager has tried to work with him and impressed upon him that if he gets the chance to go at people don’t be scared.
“We’re right behind him. He showed in the Czech Republic that he can get in some great positions and I was really impressed with what he did that night.”
And Hughes is calling for those who are given the opportunity to ensure they take it.
“There’s a chance for players to come in and show the manager what they are capable of and if we’ve injuries or suspensions in the future and individuals are needed then he knows that he can call upon them,” he said.