Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland not up to scratch, but Aaron Hughes is still confident

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland's Aaron Hughes is confident that last night's 1-0 friendly defeat to Scotland won't derail the Euro 2016 qualifying bid on Sunday when Finland visit Windsor Park.

Michael O'Neill's men were hoping for a win and a big display at Hampden, but got neither, continuing their awful record in friendlies, not winning one for SEVEN years. Hughes insisted, however, that the Finland game is all that really matters.

He said: "The game that really counts is on Sunday and this was all about fine tuning and preparing for that one."

Northern Ireland have not won a friendly under manager O’Neill. Their last success in a game without points on offer was against Georgia at Windsor Park in 2008.

When asked about what is a terrible record Brighton defender Hughes added: “Obviously we all want to win every game that we play, but as long as you are getting something positive out of friendlies then they are worthwhile.

“We haven’t been together for five months so it was good to get together again and be involved in a match before we have to take on Finland, which is the big one for us.”

Hughes felt he was fouled by Christophe Berra when the Scot rose above him to head in a late winner for Gordon Strachan’s side from a corner.

Referee Martin Atkinson thought differently.

“I asked the referee at the end and he said he didn’t think it was a foul at the time,” said Hughes, who won his 95th cap, equalling David Healy’s record as Northern Ireland’s most capped outfield player.

“I thought I was going to head it but I couldn’t get off the floor because he was on my shoulders.

Sometimes they are given and sometimes they aren’t. It was disappointing to concede from a set piece.”

On the game itself, Hughes conceded that Scotland started faster and that Northern Ireland were thankful Michael McGovern was in such excellent form in goal.

“We knew they were going to come out sharp and fast which they did but once we got a handle on that and got in our shape we did alright,” said Hughes.

“Michael made some big saves when we were soaking up the pressure but after that in the second half I don’t remember them making many chances. Now we move on to the Finland game.”

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