Hughes remains hopeful

Northern Ireland set a European record for going 12 successive matches without scoring when they failed to find the target against Armenia at Lansdowne Road on Wednesday.

Andy Smith and the substitute Steve Jones missed a couple of good chances in the 1-0 Euro 2004 qualifier defeat, while David Healy worked hard with no reward. However, the supply to the forwards was limited after Keith Gillespie limped off on the half-hour with an ankle injury.

But the captain, Aaron Hughes, remained upbeat yesterday. "We are building a squad and that's what this campaign has been all about," he said. "We are certainly on our way to doing that. We have a lot of young players and, hopefully, things will change."

The midfielder Damien Johnson will miss the final qualifier in Greece next month after collecting his second yellow card of the campaign. But Michael Hughes will be available after sitting out Wednesday's match because of a ban.