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Northern Ireland v New Zealand: Boss eager to see what options his new boys present


Plan of action: Michael O’Neill unveils his squad for the upcoming double header

Plan of action: Michael O’Neill unveils his squad for the upcoming double header

Plan of action: Michael O’Neill unveils his squad for the upcoming double header

Michael O'Neill has welcomed the fresh faces in the Northern Ireland squad at a crucial period in their World Cup qualifying campaign and then insisted the new boys would not let anyone down.

O'Neill and his men are gearing up for a friendly against New Zealand at Windsor Park on Friday night but the big one is the Group C showdown against Azerbaijan in Baku on June 10.

A victory would leave Northern Ireland in pole position to land a play-off spot on the road to Russia 2018, but a few key players are missing.

Conor Washington is getting married while Jamie Ward and Will Grigg are injured, and Corry Evans and Paddy McNair remain out.

There are also fitness concerns surrounding Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart, while striker Kyle Lafferty, who has been released by Norwich City, is lacking match sharpness.

Accrington Stanley forward Shay McCartan was handed a first call-up while Southend's Adam Thompson and Burton Albion's Tom Flanagan make the 25-man squad. And players like Matthew Lund and Paul Paton have an opportunity to catch O'Neill's eye.

"We don't have experienced players out there that we are overlooking," said the Northern Ireland boss.

"The choice is what it is and the likes of Shay McCartan coming in, Liam (Boyce), Paul Paton, Matthew Lund, these are the players who need to be ready to do a job for us.

"We have a team in mind we want to play but injuries are possible. I'm sure none of those players would let us down if they had to play."

Accrington ace McCartan is thrilled to step onto the international stage and O'Neill says he brings "something extra" to the group.

"There's no getting away from the fact that we have players missing but we had four great days training in Manchester and young Shay and Adam Thompson did well," he added.

"In terms of the options it was right to bring in young Shay, he's had a very good second half of the season.

"He doesn't always play at Accrington, which is a bit of a surprise to me from what I know of him in the Under-21s and since he has been in with us. I think he is a young player that is attracting a bit of attention and hopefully the fact he is in the senior squad will add to that as well.

"He's an out and out goalscorer, he's sharp, goes in behind, a good finisher and the type of player who might not do a lot but scores a goal out of nothing."

  • Northern Ireland v New Zealand, Friendly: Friday, Windsor Park, 7.45pm

Belfast Telegraph