Northern Ireland's Hodson says extra sessions helped him cope with Germany test
Published 12/10/2016 | 22:51
Lee Hodson has credited Rangers' fitness regime for helping him impress in his first start for Northern Ireland in three years.
The 25-year-old right-back won his 18th cap in a 2-0 loss to the reigning World Cup holders Germany on Tuesday and it was the first time Michael O'Neill had selected him in his XI since 2013.
It was even more of a gamble to play the defender against such illustrious opponents given Hodson's only Gers appearances have come in the Scottish League Cup since his summer switch.
However, the move was vindicated as Hodson was one of the brighter spots in a Northern Irish performance which again saw them expending plenty of energy chasing Die Mannschaft around.
"Obviously it was going to be difficult for me coming into a game of that magnitude against some of the best players in the world off the back of not being a regular at my club," Hodson admitted.
"But you have to be prepared to play whenever you are needed.
"I've been looking after myself at Rangers and I played a couple of weeks ago against Queen of the South in the cup and I got a full 90 minutes there which helped with my fitness.
"The staff at Rangers are very good and they do extra sessions to keep you in tip-top condition and that definitely helped with my fitness against Germany."
Outings against Annan, East Stirling, Peterhead and Queen of the South would barely have prepared Hodson for the level of opponent O'Neill's team met in Hanover.
There is an acceptance in Group C that Germany, who maintained their 100 per cent record, will top the standings and the race for second and a possible play-off berth is surprisingly being led by Azerbaijan, who visit Belfast next month with three points more than their hosts.
"I don't think I've ever faced a better side than that Germany team; I don't think I ever will," Hodson added.
"They are the best of the best. All their players play for top teams but it was a great experience to play against them and our heads aren't down at all.
"We've a lot to be happy about before the game against Azerbaijan. We know the importance of that game if we want to stand any chance of qualifying.
"Obviously it's going to be tough for us, or anyone for that matter, to get close to Germany but second place is up for grabs and that will hopefully get you a play-off place.
"If we can go into the game in March second in the group it will really help us kick on."
The Germans are well placed to consider who has the best shot of finishing runners-up having played Norway, the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland already.
O'Neill's team conceded just twice while the other two nations were defeated 3-0, and Germany defender Mats Hummels believes Northern Ireland stand an excellent chance of coming second.
"I think Northern Ireland can definitely play for the second place in this group," he said.
"I think every team except San Marino will believe they can finish second and Northern Ireland have shown against us they should be viewed like that.
"I hope, of course, we will make it into first place in the group and we are in a good position right now.
"If you look at the results, the Czech Republic have just two points so there is a really good chance for Northern Ireland to build on their start and maybe finish second if we win the group."