Hughes puts fine start by Irish down to perfect blend

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The Independent Football

Aaron Hughes is hoping that a blend of experience and enthusiasm could take Northern Ireland into a major championship. The Fulham defender was a rock at the back along with Stephen Craigan as their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign got off to a perfect start against Group C rivals Slovenia on Friday.

The substitute Corry Evans, on his first competitive outing, was the match-winner in the 1-0 victory in Maribor, sweeping home at the back post on 70 minutes after a low cross from Craig Cathcart on his debut.

Northern Ireland then manned the barricades to stun the hosts, surprise participants in the World Cup finals. Next up are Italy at Windsor Park on 8 October with Serbia, Estonia and the Faroe Islands also in the group.

Hughes, who had handed the captain's armband to Craigan as he was winning his 50th cap, said: "We know our strengths, we also know our weaknesses, we know what works for us.

"If we stick to that, hopefully we can take that extra step to get to a finals. How good would that be? It's a tough group, but that doesn't lower expectations. We are setting out to qualify, no matter how difficult.

"Whatever anyone else thinks outside the camp is really irrelevant. If we approach every game properly and do things right, we will give ourselves as good a chance as ever."

Hughes sets great store by the blend in his squad. "We've got lads who have been about for a couple of campaigns and they are still young," he said. "Add that to the enthusiasm and promise of the lads coming through, the likes of Johnny Gorman, Corry Evans and Craig Cathcart, you have a nice mix."