Aaron Hughes believes Northern Ireland heading in right direction

Aaron Hughes: Believes Northern Ireland can take plenty of positives from goalless draw in Malta

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Northern Ireland defender Aaron Hughes believes they are moving in the right direction, despite a lacklustre performance against Malta.

Michael O'Neill's winless start to life as national coach continued on Wednesday with a goalless draw during a friendly trip to the Mediterranean island.

Northern Ireland face two crucial home games in March as they look to breathe life into their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, with table toppers Russia and Israel set to visit Windsor Park.

Experienced Fulham centre-half Hughes believes there are plenty of positives to take into that double-header, with the chance to hand debuts to Billy McKay and Alex Bruce making the Malta trip a worthwhile exercise.

"We're still building on a lot of things, with Michael coming in and the way he wants us to play," Hughes told Sky Sports.

"I think the lads have actually taken that on pretty quickly because there is a lot of attention to detail and there's not a lot of time to work on it.

"We could go through this campaign, have a good go at it and maybe come up a little short, but I think, for the future, if we can keep this group together as much as we can, I think we could get back up there really pushing for qualification again.

"We are missing Chris Baird and Kyle Lafferty for the next qualifier so changes do need to be made.

"Also, the fact that the qualifiers are only around six weeks away makes this trip a great refresher, plus a way to blend the young lads in."

Fearless

He added: "It's a good thing that we are seeing these young lads come into the squad, especially since they are scoring goals regularly for their clubs because that isn't always the case for Northern Ireland strikers.

"There's probably an element of fearlessness among them, possibly verging on being a bit naive about the whole thing, because it's all new.

"It's just a positive, because they get out and play without thinking about any of the pressure that comes with international football and they don't have the same baggage as the rest of us from previous campaigns."

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