Ray Houghton

(12 Jun 2008)
Ray Houghton , along with his Oxford United team-mate John Aldridge, made his international debut for Ireland in Jack Charlton's first match in charge - the 1-0 defeat by Wales in a friendly at Lansdowne Road on March 26, 1986.

There was little indication in that game when Ian Rush scored the only goal of the afternoon that the little Glaswegian would go on to win a remarkable 73 caps in a distinguished international career over the next eleven years.

Houghton was signed by then Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish for £675,000 for the then 25 year old and the move paid immediate dividends and in May 1988, the midfielder collected a League Championship medal after 28 appearances and five goals for the Reds.

A never to be forgotten headed goal after just five minutes against England in the 1-0 victory in Stuttgart at the start of the European Championships finals in West Germany in 1988 was one of just six goals Houghton scored at international level.

Overnight Houghton became a national hero and at club level the success continued with FA Cup winners medals in 1989 and '92and a second League medal in 1990. At the same time Ray appeared in all eight qualifying matches for the World Cup finals in 1990 and was an ever-present in the five games in Italy that summer.

Always the man for the big occasion, Houghton scored another memorable goal at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey when Italy were beaten 1-0 at the start of the USA '94 World Cup finals. An exquisite early lob from 20 yards over the head of 'keeper Gianluca Pagliuca had 60,000 Irish fans celebrating.

After his move from Liverpool to Aston Villa for £900,000 in the summer of 1992, Houghton went on to have a successful three years at Villa Park including a League Cup winners medal in 1994 before winding down his career with spells at Crystal Palace and Reading.

The curtain eventually came down on his international career with a substitute appearance in the World Cup play-off match against Belgium in Brussels in 1997. Sadly Ireland went down 2-1 (3-2 on aggregate). But Houghton, as ever the big game player, signed off by scoring an early second half goal created by Andy Townsend.

By nature an attack-minded player he was also appreciated as much by manager such as Dalglish and Charlton for his tenacity and stamina not to mention his accurate crosses and dribbling skills.

Houghton is now in demand as a pundit on the game, working for outlets such as RTÉ in Ireland, talkSPORT and Sky Sports in the UK. Since 2002 he has also worked for Sports Interactive as a consultant on their PC & Xbox 360 game Football Manager.

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