Set-piece goals await Northern Ireland from Shane Ferguson’s crossing
Practice makes perfect. That certainly proved to be the case for Shane Ferguson against Portugal and he is hoping for more of the same against Luxembourg tomorrow night.
The Newcastle United midfielder, on loan at Birmingham City, was the creator supreme for Northern Ireland when the Portuguese were in Belfast.
The 22-year-old from Londonderry set up goals for Gareth McAuley and Jamie Ward on Friday night with outstanding in-swinging left foot corners. He caused havoc all evening with his delivery as the Portugal goalkeeper flapped and the Portugal defence got flustered.
Unfortunately after the dismissals of Chris Brunt and Kyle Lafferty and with the visitors then dominating possession, Ferguson didn't get the opportunity to pile on more pressure with his dangerous crosses.
There is no doubt though that Ferguson had made his presence felt and that the Portugal team were delighted that they wouldn't be seeing any more of him in the Group F campaign.
Forget a certain American based ex-footballer who played for Manchester United, Real Madrid and England, for Northern Ireland fans there is a new set-piece king in town.
Bend it like Ferguson!
Modestly, he said: “We did plenty of practice on the training ground and thankfully it paid off. It was great to set up two goals but I'd sooner have won the game to be honest.
“We practice the set-pieces the day before the match. I also do a lot of crossing work on my own at my club.
“It's one of the main points of my game.”
It's a useful piece of artillery for Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill to have in his armoury.
“Hopefully the corners can work again for us against Luxembourg and we can cause a threat to their goal too,” added Ferguson, who has cemented his place in the international starting line-up since the arrival of O'Neill.
“It is great that the manager is playing a lot of young players. Confidence wise playing for Northern Ireland has helped me and I've also gained a lot of good experience, though I never take my place for granted and will keep working hard in training and during matches to try impress and stay in the team.”
Ferguson, who made his international debut in 2009, says he has seen real progression in the Northern Ireland side over the last couple of years.
And his intention is to make similar strides at club level.
When he burst on to the scene with Newcastle, the Toon Army were excited by the diminutive left winger swinging crosses into the box, but last season was frustrating for Ferguson with game time becoming more limited, hence the reason why he went out on loan to Birmingham at the end of last campaign.
He's on loan at St Andrews again until the end of this season.
“I had a talk with the manager at Newcastle Alan Pardew and spoke to him about trying to get a full season and I'll hopefully do that at Birmingham,” added Ferguson.
“I was so small and weak but playing on a regular basis for Birmingham and Northern Ireland has really helped me develop.
“The plan is to go back to Newcastle after this season and then hopefully I can make the breakthrough there in the next few years.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital