Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Norwood believes Northern Ireland can shock Russia

Some may call it youthful enthusiasm, others blind optimism but whatever way Oliver Norwood looks at tonight’s match against Russia in Moscow to kickstart the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, the Burnley-born midfielder can only see Northern Ireland returning home with a positive result.

As a former member of the Manchester United youth set-up, it was drilled into Norwood from a young age that any obstacle could be overcome.

And that mindset even includes a side ranked 101st in the world taking at least a point from the 11th best team on the planet.

Norwood, who qualifies for Northern Ireland through a grandparent and has already earned seven international caps after coming through the IFA's under-age system although tomorrow he is likely to start on the bench, believes Michael O’Neill has a team capable of springing a surprise.

“Facing Russia in their own backyard under Fabio Capello, we know we are the underdogs. We are a small nation. But we showed in Slovenia (a 1-0 win), who had returned from the World Cup in 2010, what can be achieved when you have real belief,” admits Norwood.

“We have the makings of being a really decent side. There are a number of players like Jonny Evans, Aaron Hughes, Chris Brunt, Chris Baird, Gareth McAuley and Steve Davis who have experience of playing in the Premier League and that can only help us.

“Then there are young players like myself who are eager to show what they can do at this level after being given a chance by Michael O’Neill. It is up to us now.”

Having been out on loan in the Championship last season with relegated Coventry City, 21-year-old Norwood finally took the plunge to cut all ties with Old Trafford and signed with recently-promoted Huddersfield Town.

It was a move that pleased his international boss who prefers Norwood playing regular football in the Championship, rather than back in the Manchester United reserves.

But consistent displays in Huddersfield’s first team do not guarantee him a place in Northern Ireland’s midfield, however with Shane Ferguson forced to withdraw from the squad, this improves Norwood’s chances of selection tomorrow night.

The choice will likely be between him, his former Manchester United team-mate Corry Evans and Andy Little for the final midfield slot.

Norwood says: “Competition is something you have to accept as a young player and it is healthy for the team.

“You can only learn in training from the experienced guys around you and that is what I am hoping to do.”

While Manchester United was an unbelievable springboard for Norwood, he concedes he’s learning all the time from Nigel Worthington’s former No 2 – Glynn Snodin, who is now Simon Grayson’s assistant.

“I got to know him first of all with the national set-up and he helped my game with his knowledge of what was needed. He has continued that role at Huddersfield and it is really good to be working with him.”

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