Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Rangers woes not all doom and gloom for Northern Ireland's Andy Little

Rangers Andy Little celebrates his first goal during the Irn-Bru Scottish Third Division match at Ibrox, Glasgow.

Rangers' fall from grace may have been traumatic for many of those involved but Northern Ireland international Andy Little believes it has had a positive effect on his own career.

Few people in Scottish football can honestly say they have benefited from the financial turmoil that saw the Glasgow giants reform to start this season in the Irn-Bru Third Division, but Little is among them.

Having been a peripheral figure at Ibrox since he broke into the first team towards the end of last season he has arguably been the club's best player this term.

While more established players opted to move on, the versatile Little penned a new contract and has so far scored eight goals in eight matches from the right side of midfield.

On Tuesday, he is expected to make his first international start at Windsor Park in the World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg and he credits that to his unusual club situation.

"When administration kicked in it was backs against the wall time, but it was pressure and I kind of enjoyed that," he said.

"It was up to us to fight back and I really enjoyed the games and goals I got last season. This season has been the same, the fans have been unbelievable and I've never seen so much positivity at the team.

"Everyone said it would be doom and gloom in Third Division but in a strange way it has been the opposite from that. It was a great decision to stay because it's the first time I have ever made eight starts in a row and that has been the focus of the season, to play 40-plus games if I can."

Two of Little's Northern Ireland team-mates, Steven Davis and Kyle Lafferty, opted to leave Rangers to continue their careers at a higher level.

But Little and Dean Shiels - who moved to the club despite their lowly league status - have been promised by national manager Michael O'Neill that they will be given the chance to prove they can play a part in the World Cup qualifying campaign.

"Dean and I have been kept in the squad but I don't think of it as balancing Third Division football with international football, it's about balancing international football with Rangers. There are plenty of players in our squad who should be playing international football. You're training with very, very good players every day and our standards are high.

"I am delighted Michael has shown faith in us and we have to show him we're sharp enough and capable of playing international football."

O'Neill had a couple of changes to his squad today, with Shane Ferguson returning to the squad having been ruled out of Friday's 2-0 defeat in Russia with a groin problem.

Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Lee Camp, meanwhile, returned to England after requesting an early departure due to personal reasons.

Having previously been number one, Camp was dropped to the bench in Moscow, with veteran Roy Carroll back for his first competitive appearance in six years. Bury's Trevor Carson has been called up as cover.

Northern Ireland will continue to monitor the fitness of Manchester United's Jonny Evans before making a decision on his availability.

Evans admitted to feeling pain in his ankle throughout the Russia match, which will concern his club boss Sir Alex Ferguson, but joined his team-mates in training this morning.

O'Neill said: "Having Shane back is a big bonus for us. We knew we couldn't get him for two games so it was important we had him for this one.

"Lee spoke to me yesterday and asked to be relieved from the squad for personal reasons. Obviously I didn't delve too much into a player's personal situation, there are some things outside of football that are more important."

O'Neill confirmed there had been no contact with Manchester United over Evans, adding: "We have no major concerns over Jonny but we just have to manage him between now and Tuesday.

"If there's any risk we wouldn't take that risk and neither would Jonny."