Defender Aaron Hughes admits he’s loving playing alongside Jonny Evans.
The 37-year-old, who helped Northern Ireland to their seventh clean-sheet in eight qualifying games, believes that the ex-Manchester United centre-back is a class act and wasn’t surprised that both Manchester City and Arsenal were after him before last week’s transfer deadline.
“I love playing alongside Jonny Evans,” he insisted.
“It’s great to play with a player of that quality and that level. He’s fantastic.
“You can see that by the interest in him during the transfer window. It’s not just a recent thing because Jonny has been at that level for so long. It’s great for us. He is an easy player to play alongside.”
This maybe the Hearts man final campaign with the Green and White Army and he concedes that he’s soaking up nights like Monday evening.
“I’m enjoying it and enjoying still being part of it,” he added. “Nights like this and the atmosphere and the feeling you get from being involved in these games is incredible. Also being part of this group of lads and this squad and the whole set-up it is a great time to be here. I’m trying to take in as much as I can.”
Hughes says it’s ‘satifying’ the position they are in at the minute and he admits all the hard work is paying off as Michael O’Neill’s side are sitting in second spot with a play-off place for next summer’s World Cup in Russia virtually assured.
“We always speak about the position we are in and realising where a good result could put us. I think you have to do that and from the last campaign in the Euros that’s what we did. We have learnt a lot from the Euro campaign.
“The hardest thing was to show we can still do it and to be where we are at now is really, really satisfying. It’s down to the hard work we put in not just in the games but also in training leading up to them. A lot of the stuff we are doing now we have been doing for a few years.
“It’s what got us to the Euros and we knew we needed that sort of discipline to get us through this group too. It’s great to look at the stats and the numbers and is testament to the hard work of the team. After you finish a double header and you have won both games there are a lot of emotions, relief, happiness, elation and you are feeling tired too. It’s an intense 10 days and it’s great to get results in that time.”
The former Newcastle United man feels the defensive shape and organisation played a key role in their impressive 2-0 win over the Czech Republic.
“Massive because sometimes if you start go hunting for the ball and get frustrated and lose your discipline good teams will come through you and open you up,” he said.
“The two chances that we had we took them really well and that gave us a cushion that allowed us to sit a little more and absorb that pressure. I thought the lads did fantastically well. We worked very hard and kept their disciple. It’s not just physical, it’s concentration levels for 90 minutes and to get through that it’s a credit to all the lads and how much hard work they put into it.”