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Martin Paterson astonished by Northern Ireland success since his crucial goal

Martin Paterson was the man who handed Michael O'Neill his first win as Northern Ireland manager, but the striker will be watching from home this week as his former boss prepares for a World Cup play-off against Switzerland.

O'Neill is football royalty in Northern Ireland having led his side to Euro 2016, their first major tournament in 30 years, and is now only 180 minutes of football away from landing an even bigger prize.

Yet things were not always so triumphant for O'Neill. On August 14, 2013, he sent his side to face Fabio Capello's Russia in pursuit of a first win at the 10th time of asking.

There had already been a 6-0 defeat in Holland, home draws against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan and a soporific stalemate in Malta.

The Irish FA were impressed by his behind-the-scenes work, senior players talked glowingly about his impact, but a result was sorely overdue when Paterson leapt highest to nod home the only goal of the game at Windsor Park.

O'Neill had a new two-year deal within three months and the rest is history. Just as Mark Robins has become known as the man who saved Alex Ferguson's job in 1990, Paterson has a crucial place in O'Neill's story.

"We knew we were on a bad run and we needed a result, but we weren't aware of what Michael needed to renew his contract," Paterson told Press Association Sport.

"I don't want to be the one who says that night was when we turned the corner, that would be self indulgent because others have come through and done unbelievable things. But that result showed we could take it to those high-powered nations if we believed.

"I always knew Michael would be a success but to make a Euros and be on the verge of a World Cup? Wow."

But like Robins, who never got to share in Ferguson's many future triumphs at Old Trafford, Paterson has slipped to the margins of his country's glory days.

Hampered by frequent injuries and an ill-fated move to Huddersfield he made just six more appearances, the last in Cyprus more than three-and-a-half years ago.

A brief stint in Major League Soccer followed, alongside Kaka at Orlando City, and he has just completed an NASL campaign with a second Florida franchise, Tampa Bay Rowdies.

"I never really settled at Huddersfield and I knew it was a mistake within about three weeks," he said.

"I never settled and had two or three knee injuries in 18 months. There's no bad blood but I think that period probably killed international football for me.

"I wasn't playing enough and I fell out of the squad. If you want to play international football you need to be right at it and I couldn't put the games together.

"It's hard for me to watch Northern Ireland, sometimes I'm gutted to be honest. Of course I'd have wanted to be involved more but I hope they beat Switzerland.

"I keep telling people if you're having a World Cup you want Northern Ireland to be there. Those fans are hard to beat."

Aged just 30, Paterson has not abandoned hope of playing in front of them again and adding a post-script to his international career.

"There's no shame that I can't get in now, the young lads are flying, but I haven't given up on myself," he said.

"I'm never quit anything and I'm not retired. If I got that call, even if I got close to the squad, that would be a personal victory. It's only now you realise how much it means to be part of it."

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