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Mark Sykes could land Northern Ireland spot for Euro 2020 play-off after starring against Newcastle, says Sammy Clingan

 

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Mark Sykes' career may never be the same after his dazzling display against Newcastle.

Mark Sykes' career may never be the same after his dazzling display against Newcastle.

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Mark Sykes' career may never be the same after his dazzling display against Newcastle.

If each key moment of Mark Sykes' career was likened to a movie, Tuesday night would have been the Oxford United midfielder's answer to The Breakfast Club.

"He has come of age tonight," explained manager Karl Robinson after the former Glenavon star's potential was on display for all to see in the FA Cup replay against Newcastle United.

While the Premier League side went through, winning 3-2 after extra time, you wonder if life can ever be the same for Sykes after his eye-catching display.

His forthright approach, daring to dart through the Magpies' midfield and carry his plucky League One outfit forward, will have looked extremely familiar to Glenavon supporters, and players for that matter.

Sykes' old midfield partner Sammy Clingan was watching on at home.

He saw the 22 year-old have 81 touches of the ball, a 77% passing accuracy and complete all five of his dribbles, the best of which began when Sykes twirled between two Newcastle opponents to drive across the half-way line.

 

It was a mark of what Clingan had already seen at Mourneview before Sykes' move to England just a few days over one year ago; undoubted ability matched by the necessary confidence.

And it's that combination that Clingan reckons will take Sykes into Michael O'Neill's senior international fold.

Sooner rather than later, too. With Oliver Norwood having ruled out a return for next month's Euro 2020 play-offs, Clingan reckons Sykes could be the man to give Northern Ireland that something special to unlock a place at this summer's finals.

"Michael will have the nucleus of his squad in mind for Bosnia but Mark can still sneak in through the back door if he keeps this form up and scores a few goals," said Clingan.

"He'd be difficult to leave out because he offers something different to other guys that they have there, especially with Ollie not involved anymore. Obviously they have the likes of Steve Davis, George Saville and Paddy McNair but Mark could provide something more in an attacking sense.

"There aren't many players who have the ability to make those runs that he does and to create chances for team-mates.

"As a defensive midfielder, that was what you hated players doing to you, making those runs off you. It's all about taking that gamble and finding the space - he's so good at it.

"Michael will have people out watching the matches and I'm sure Mark will be one of the players he is keeping an eye on. Michael's big on his players getting regular game-time at their clubs and Mark is playing week-in, week-out now so that all works in his favour.

"He definitely is good enough. He would be able to make that next step up. The likes of Tuesday night will give him confidence that he can get to the next level but he just has to keep on doing what he's doing every week."

It's been a stellar rise for Sykes since Oxford chief Robinson insisted he was available for loan at the end of August.

Two assists in a substitute appearance against West Ham in the League Cup lit the fire, with the 22-year-old handed his first League One start of the season just a couple of weeks later in early October.

Since then, another 17 starts have followed, along with his first league goal to win the game at AFC Wimbledon.

"I'm glad he has a manager who has put his faith in him," said Clingan. "That's what he needed to get things started over there.

"He's confident in his own ability. It took him a little bit of time to find his feet, which it was always going to do after moving away from home and stepping up from part-time to full-time football but he looked really good on Tuesday. He was bombing forward and making those runs in behind the striker.

"He showed just how fit he is. If he can continue to put in the hard work, he can make a really good career for himself."

After Tuesday, it would seem likely that, following in the footsteps of compatriot Gavin Whyte before him, that career will take him higher up the Football League than Oxford can.

All the way to the Premier League?

"It's hard to say," mused Clingan. "Just because he had a good game against Newcastle doesn't mean he's all of a sudden a Premier League player. He has to show that sort of form season after season and if he can do that there will be clubs watching him.

"And once he's playing international football, even more clubs will be keeping an eye on him."

Wherever the road leads, Mark Sykes' career took another significant step forward on Tuesday evening.

He has come of age.

Over to you, Michael.

Belfast Telegraph