Belfast Telegraph

Little aims to go a long way from third class

By Paul Ferguson

Free-scoring Andy Little has pleaded with international boss Michael O’Neill to judge him on his goals and not the division he is playing in as Northern Ireland prepare to tackle Russia in their opening World Cup qualifying match on Friday (4.00pm BST).

Seven goals in six games for Rangers this season is a loud and clear message to O’Neill that he is a man in form in front of goal.

But Little’s goals have either come in Scotland’s Division Three or the early stages of Cup competitions against lower league opposition and the Fermanagh man hopes this will not count against him earning a ninth cap in Moscow.

The 23-year-old, who, despite interest from League One clubs in England, signed a three year deal with Charles Green’s Rangers newco, was selected in the squad to face Finland in a friendly last month, but failed to gain any game time from the bench.

Little hopes to have impressed boss O’Neill over the past few weeks to earn even a cameo role against Fabio Capello’s Russians.

He certainly doesn’t buy into the fact he’s only scoring regularly because he’s currently up against lesser opposition and is encouraged by Rangers team-mate Dean Shiels’ selection against the Finns at Windsor Park.

“A goal is a goal,” insists Little. “It’s a good habit and boosts confidence.

“Now I’m looking to score every time I take the field even though I’m playing right side midfield.”

Little, along with the rest of his international team-mates trained in London yesterday before flying out first thing this morning to Moscow.

And before the Northern Ireland squad even arrive in the Russian capital, manager O’Neill has been hit with a withdrawal.

The man whose goal rescued O’Neill from a third successive defeat as Northern Ireland manager last month has pulled out.

Martin Paterson scored from the penalty spot to give Northern Ireland a 3-3 draw against Finland.

The Burnley striker, who came off the bench to win the penalty before stepping up to take it himself, is ruled out due to what his club has called a ‘minor hamstring injury.’

Paterson will continue to recieve treatment at Turf Moor this week and may link-up with the squad when they return to Belfast at the weekend ahead of next Tuesday’s meeting with Luxembourg.

Paterson’s absence has now obviously increased Little’s chance of participating in Friday’s World Cup qualifier.

“I’m ready when the call comes. I was disappointed at not getting a run against Finland,” says Little.

“But I appreciate how well Dean Shiels and Kyle Lafferty played against the Finns.”

Little may have to call on his versatility to get a starting place.

The Light Blues starlet has the ability to play right-back and right side midfield as well as up front and this could stand him in good stead throughout the qualifiers.

Right-back is still up for grabs although with Jonny Evans and Aaron Hughes back, the Manchester United and Fulham duo, along with Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart, are likely to fill the back four.

But it’s up front Little really craves, and he dreams about adding to his season’s goal tally and scoring for the first time for his country in Moscow.

Belfast Telegraph


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