Belfast Telegraph

NI star Duff targets top flight after Chelsea heroics

By Stuart McKinley

Michael Duff has had a taste of the big time — and now the Northern Ireland defender wants to take on the best players that England has to offer every single week.

Although goalkeeper Brian Jensen took the plaudits for saving John Obi Mikel’s penalty to hand Burnley victory over Chelsea in the Carling Cup last Wednesday night, it was Duff who scored the decisive spot-kick for the Clarets at Stamford Bridge.

That result has set the Turf Moor men up for a quarter-final meeting with Arsenal, although it is likely to be a crop of teenagers rather than Cesc Fabregas and the like in opposition in that game.

Having taken on some of Europe’s best strikers in a green shirt, Duff wasn’t phased by taking on the might of Didier Drogba and the 29-year-old — who looks certain to start for Northern Ireland against Hungary at Windsor Park tomorrow night following the withdrawals of Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley and George McCartney — would relish that kind of challenge every week.

“The game against Chelsea last week gave us a bit of a taster of what the Premier League is like,” said Duff.

“Before the game we talked about going on and what it could be like if we were in the Premier League and the target for the club is to be playing teams like Chelsea in full stadiums week in and week out.

“It’s what everyone at the club wants, it’s what we are working hard to achieve and we’re well placed at the minute.

“We’re fourth in the table and have been on a good run. Beating Queens Park Rangers on Saturday was a big win for us because a lot of people were questioning us and asking could we follow up the win against Chelsea.

“We did it and hopefully we can slip in under the radar without anyone talking about us too much and make it to the Premier League.

“For me personally it was good to go up against Didier Drogba. He is big, strong and mobile and he is definitely up there with the best strikers I have played against with Northern Ireland.

“I was up against David Villa when we played Spain and he’s not bad.”

Duff hasn’t started an international game since the ill-fated away double-header against Latvia and Iceland, when a return of zero points put a serious dent in the Northern Ireland challenge to qualify for the European Championship finals.

His knee is now in full working order after ligament damage sustained 13 months ago and a return to Windsor Park after last playing there in April last year has been long awaited.

“People always question friendly internationals, but ask a player and they will always tell you that they want to play,” said Duff.

“For me it’s a chance to win another cap and every time I play for Northern Ireland it’s massive for me.

“I’ll have friends and family at the game and I would never pass up the opportunity of playing an international.”

Belfast Telegraph


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