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Set-pieces 'will be the key to a tough match in Baku'

 

By Steven Beacom

Shane Ferguson believes set-pieces will be a big weapon for Northern Ireland again when they take on Azerbaijan in the World Cup. In November Michael O'Neill's side hammered Azerbaijan 4-0 at Windsor Park with the first three goals courtesy of a throw-in, free-kick and corner. Only the final strike from Chris Brunt came from open play.

Millwall star Ferguson wants to see more of the same in Baku on Saturday.

"When you have the likes of Chris Brunt and Oliver Norwood taking set-pieces you are going to create a lot of chances," said Ferguson.

"Gareth McAuley has scored a lot of goals for us from corners and free-kicks.

"We work a lot on that and it is a good weapon for us. Hopefully we can use set-pieces to our advantage in Azerbaijan.

"It will be a hard game out there. I think they were much tougher opposition than the scoreline at home suggested.

"We were told that with the passing stats they had the ball more than us, so they are definitely a team that you can't underestimate."

Ferguson missed the last qualifier - a 2-0 Windsor victory over Norway - through suspension, but hopes to see some action this time around.

"I'll keep working hard in training to try and impress the manager," said the ex-Newcastle and Rangers winger.

"It was tough to miss out because it was my first suspension, I'm not used to getting them.

"I knew straight away after I'd been booked that I'd miss the next game. I was saying to myself, 'what was I doing?'

"There was no need for it to be honest but that's part of learning. It was good that the boys beat Norway and now I'm hoping to get back in the team.

"I probably see myself playing further up the pitch but it's like at Millwall - if I have to go to left back that's what I'll do as I just want to help the team."

Ferguson joined up with the Northern Ireland squad on the back of a brilliant season with Millwall. The Lions were promoted to the Championship through the play-offs, beating Bradford 1-0 at Wembley, which followed an incredible FA Cup run which took them to the quarter-finals.

"There were a lot of emotions at Wembley.

"Obviously last year we lost the play-off and that was a hard one to take," said Ferguson.

"We didn't really get started against Bradford until the second half. The manager had a talk with us at half-time and everyone responded. It turned out to be a brilliant day and one we will never forget.

"After we lost last year I didn't really have time to take it all in because I had to catch a flight to join up with the Northern Ireland squad ahead of the Euros.

"Going to the Euros softened the blow.

"This season I think there's been 56 games and last season was around the same so it's been tough. We have a small squad but we got lucky not getting many injuries and that carried us through to the end."

So, could Millwall possibly do what outsiders Huddersfield did this season and earn promotion to the Premier League next term?

Ferguson says: "We have a great owner at the club who is very ambitious. There is a lot of work to do. Our aim next season is to stay up and build a foundation from there."

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