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Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington is still wary of the Budapest test

By William Cherry

Memories can become clouded with the passage of time. Yet the disappointment of a 1-0 defeat 26 years ago remains with Nigel Worthington.

Northern Ireland, under legendary boss Billy Bingham, were targeting a third successive World Cup finals as they peered through Budapest's iron curtain.

After an unbeaten start and two successive clean sheets, regrettably, a fine performance in the famous Nep Stadium back in October 1988 was undone by an 84th minute goal by Istvan Vincze.

A young Michael O'Neill joined comrades Worthington, Mal Donaghy, John McClelland, Colin Clarke and others on that luckless evening in 'The Heart of Europe'.

This return visit, as the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign begins on Sunday, offers a long-awaited opportunity to settle an old score, but current manager O'Neill is cautiously optimistic of a maiden victory over Attila Pinter's Magyars – as is his predecessor Worthington.

Worthington said: "Hungary always have a decent side no matter what era. As for that particular match, well now that's really going back.

"I remember the Hungarians had a quality team, but we competed well throughout, we were organised, but unfortunately conceded a late goal. We deserved something so it was really disappointing.

"The thing about playing for Northern Ireland under Billy back then was every one of us knew exactly what our job was and we had a well-drilled game plan which we had worked on throughout the week. That organisation was one of Billy's main strengths.

"We had real togetherness; most of us were playing in the top league in England and had a never-say-die spirit.

"We were so hard to beat back then – and we almost made it in Hungary. We were in it together and that's always vital for Northern Ireland."

Northern Ireland compete against the Hungarians, Greece, Finland, Romania and the Faroe Islands in Group F and Worthington agrees with the general undercurrent of buoyancy in the camp.

It's exactly four years since Northern Ireland chalked up their last competitive away win – a 1-0 success in Slovenia, under Worthington's watch.

A number of survivors remain from that night in Maribor, with the men in green dreaming of France in two years' time.

"I'm pleased that many of those players are still involved with the squad," says York City chief Worthington.

"You have Gareth McAuley, Aaron Hughes, Kyle Lafferty and Corry Evans.

"It's a pity Jonny Evans is unavailable. You'd always want him with all his experience and he is part of the nucleus. We have had good results before with these guys."

O'Neill had always intended to trim his squad to 23 players, but the decisions on who to cut out were made for him in the end.

MK Dons midfielder Ben Reeves has a hamstring injury and Sammy Clingan a knee problem, while Alex Bruce has returned home after his wife went into labour.

NORTHERN IRELAND SQUAD: Carroll (Notts County), Mannus (St Johnstone), McGovern (Hamilton), Hughes (Brighton), Baird, McAuley (both West Brom), Cathcart (Watford), D Lafferty (Burnley), McLaughlin (Fleetwood), McCullough (Doncaster), Davis (Southampton), Brunt (West Brom), Clingan (Kilmarnock), Evans (Blackburn), Norwood (Reading), Little (Preston), Ferguson (Newcastle), Paton (Dundee Utd), K Lafferty (Norwich), McGinn (Aberdeen), Ward (Derby), McKay (Inverness), Magennis (Kilmarnock), Grigg (MK Dons).

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