Aaron Hughes captained Northern Ireland to a tense but vital victory over Slovenia at Windsor Park that kept them on top of a congested group.

Slovenia made for a tough examination of the strength of Nigel Worthington’s World Cup ambitions and they arguably had the better of a nervy first half in Belfast. Intriguingly, the man who Fulham scouts were apparently at Windsor Park tonight, Zlatko Dedic ran the game for the best part of an hour and made the most clear-cut chance of the first period. A wonderful flick over his head released Miso Brecko but the former Fulham goalkeeper Maik Taylor saved well with his legs.

The home side were much improved after what was doubtless a rousing team talk from Worthington. They had to survive a scare after West Brom’s Robert Koren struck the corssbar but they engineered a brilliant response. Damien Johnson headed over before Warren Feeney continued his fine run of international goalscoring form by flicking a header from Sammy Clingan’s cross beyond Jasmin Handanovic.

The Irish are in a fine position at the top of their group after their fourth straight home win, which is a national record. They can look forward to the qualifiers resuming after the summer break with relish – and hoping that they can go one better than their near miss in qualifying for Euro 2008. Doubtless the excellent Hughes will play his part in the rest of the campaign.