Duo could be key for O'Neill

15 August 2012 09:17

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill will give Dean Shiels and Andy Little every chance to prove they can combine life in the fourth tier of Scottish football with a World Cup qualifying campaign.

Both men are committed to Rangers - and at least a season in Irn-Bru League Division Three - and O'Neill, who was in contact with both players over their contract decisions, admits he will have to keep a careful eye on the duo as the campaign progresses but did not hesitate to select them for Wednesday night's home friendly against Finland.

"Both lads have not looked out of place here at all and I wouldn't expect that to be the case as the season progresses," he said.

"Everyone asks 'will the level they're playing at prepare them to play internationals?' Well, the reality is they've only played a couple of games so we're not really able to assess that at this minute in time.

"We will be able to assess that throughout the season, but certainly both players have looked very sharp."

Wednesday's match pits O'Neill against one of the men who gave him his first breaks in coaching - Finland boss Mixu Paatelainen.

O'Neill worked briefly as Paatelainen's assistant at Cowdenbeath before embarking on life as a number one - and made a strong impression.

Paatelainen, while desperate to put one over O'Neill when their sides meet on the pitch, is full of admiration for the Northern Irishman.

"I know Michael really well," he told Press Association Sport. "We played together at Dundee United and we worked together at Cowdenbeath, he was my colleague when I was manager there.

"It was great to work with him because he is a very intelligent guy. It did not surprise me that he did so well with Shamrock Rovers last season."

Source: PA

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