Belfast Telegraph

Peterborough star Michael Smith all set for big Northern Ireland call-up

By Steven Beacom

Peterborough United defender Michael Smith is set to be offered a chance to make a late run for Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 squad.

The uncapped full-back is primed to be called up for senior international duty for the first time by manager Michael O'Neill next week when he names his panel for friendlies away to Wales (March 24) and at home to Slovenia (March 28).

With first choice left back Chris Brunt missing the Euro finals due to injury, O'Neill will wisely assess all his options including playing a different system and while Smith is a natural right back he has played on the other side for his club.

O'Neill has watched Smith on several occasions and believes the 27-year-old, who formerly played for Ballyclare Comrades and Ballymena United, merits an opportunity to show what he can do at the highest level.

Peterborough's League One fixture against Fleetwood on March 28 has been postponed because Posh have had three players called up to international duty, one of which is understood to be Smith.

He will be joined in the squad by former team-mate Conor Washington, another player in line for an international debut later this month.

Washington was in sensational scoring form for League One outfit Peterborough earlier in the season before moving to QPR.

While Smith is born and bred in Northern Ireland, Washington is eligible due to the grandparent rule.

Meanwhile following Brunt's injury, O'Neill has insisted that his players can't afford to think about missing the finals like the unforunate West Brom star.

"I don't think players can tip-toe through their club games and I wouldn't expect them to," said O'Neill.

"They have to show commitment to their clubs. You can get injured at any time. Chris was just very unlucky. The nature of injuries is such that there is no way of protecting yourself, but hopefully with Chris that's our bad news out of the way and between now and the summer we won't get any more injuries."

O'Neill, who as the Belfast Telegraph revealed last month has agreed a new £2 million four year deal with the Irish FA, visited Brunt in a Lyon hospital on the day he had his operation after his cruciate ligament injury.

"In terms of our options Chris's injury is probably the weakest position for us," he explained.

"It does demonstrate that the squad is still very vulnerable," stated O'Neill.

"We converted Chris into a left back and he has done well there. Also his delivery from set pieces was brilliant.

"He's a player who has done great for me. And in time he has a decision to make about his international future beyond the tournament but his main priority now is to get fit and we have to support him any way we can," he said.

On potentially using a 3-5-2 formation in France compared to the four man defence that the team operated in qualifying, O'Neill said: "That is something that we would have to consider. It gives us a little bit more protection to compensate for that left back position."

If he sticks with a four man defence, Shane Ferguson and Daniel Lafferty would hope to be in the frame, though that new system appears the most likely scenario.

Belfast Telegraph