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David Healy's record-breaking scoring streak was not enough to take Northern Ireland to UEFA EURO 2008 – but four years on he hailed winger Pat McCourt after a performance that boosted their hopes of making the finals this time around.
McCourt made his first competitive senior international start at the age of 27 on Wednesday night and scored two superb goals in a 4-0 defeat of the Faroe Islands in Belfast. The victory lifted Northern Ireland up to third in Group C, two points behind Slovenia with a game in hard.
Celtic FC player McCourt, winning only his eighth cap nine years on from his debut, has sometimes been criticised for not matching application to his undoubted flair but he showed exactly what he is capable of at Windsor Park.
Healy, who scored a competition-record 13 goals in 2008 qualifying, has not struck for Northern Ireland in nearly three years and was denied again last night, but that did not dampen his joy at McCourt's display. "
Paddy's a star – he's always been a star," Healy said. "I can remember his first game when Sammy McIlroy brought him in against Spain and people were asking: 'What is going on?'
"He has all the ability in the world and he goes past defenders as if it's too easy. He will lose possession the odd time but it was nice to hear the fans singing: 'Are you Messi in disguise?' Paddy did what everyone knows he can do – score two magnificent goals."
Manager Nigel Worthington can now focus on the 2 September visit of Serbia knowing a win there and in the two games to follow against Estonia could prove enough to secure a play-off berth.
Having not won in eight matches since the 1-0 September 2010 success in Slovenia he was concerned when his team were unable to add to Aaron Hughes's early goal until the 66th minute, but it worked out in the end.
"The most important thing was getting the points but we made hard work of it in the first-half after getting a perfect start," Worthington said. "We got a perfect start because we did what we had practised in training. It got a bit sloppy because we were happy to play in front of the Faroes which suited them, but we sorted one or two things out at half-time and they carried it out to the letter."
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