Martin Paterson is in line to play a major role in the Northern Ireland attack against San Marino next week.
The 22-year-old is set to mark the first anniversary of his international debut by being handed the opportunity to celebrate with a first goal in a green shirt.
It is his 16 goals for Burnley this season that have moved Stoke-born Paterson — who qualifies for Northern Ireland through his Grandfather – to the brink of a call-up from Nigel Worthington for what is one of the country’s biggest games in years.
With just four points from as many games in the race for a place at the finals in South Africa next year, anything less than victory in Serravalle will all but end hopes of a first World Cup in 24 years.
And with goals important Northern Ireland’s top scorer in league football this season appears an obvious choice.
“I am delighted with Martin Paterson’s overall performances this season,” said Worthington, as he held his press conference via a loudspeaker telephone call when his flight to Belfast from Stansted was cancelled due to the snow in the south-east of England.
“His scoring rate has been phenomenal, his work-rate is outstanding and he has come on leaps and bounds at Burnley.
“I have watched him three or four times and been very impressed.
“I have had other people watch him as well and they have all came back with the same reports about Martin, which is good.”
Paterson’s Burnley team-mate Michael Duff hasn’t made the 22-man squad. He has been playing regularly for his club, but hasn’t made the breakthrough back into the Northern Ireland team since his cruciate ligament injury at the beginning of last season, but with Jonny Evans a doubt he is in-line for a call-up from the stand-by list.
Also missing is Keith Gillespie, who had his contract with Sheffield United terminated last week following a club suspension.
Worthington hasn’t closed the door on his international career, but acknowledges that a fortnight away from his 34th birthday and without a club Gillespie’s time is running out.
Celtic’s Pat McCourt comes in for the first time in seven years and he will be involved in a fight for Gillespie’s right-wing berth with club mate Niall McGinn and the returning Damien Johnson.
Northern Ireland squad: Taylor (Birmingham City), Mannus (Linfield), Tuffey (Partick Thistle); Baird (Fulham), Evans (Manchester United), Craigan (Motherwell), Hughes (Fulham), McCartney (Sunderland), McAuley (Ipswich Town), McGivern (Manchester City); Davis (Rangers), McCann (Scunthorpe), Brunt (West Brom), McGinn (Celtic), Clingan (Norwich City), Johnson (Birmingham City), McCourt (Celtic), Shiels (Doncaster); Healy (Sunderland), Feeney (Cardiff City), Paterson (Burnley), Lafferty (Rangers)