O'Neill support for Shiels

11 September 2012 08:17

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has backed Dean Shiels to end his international scoring duck in tonight's World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg.

Rangers forward Shiels has a dozen caps for his country without a goal but is likely to find himself restored to the starting XI at Windsor Park in a match where the attacking burden will be placed firmly on the home side. And O'Neill does not doubt the 27-year-old's ability to find the target.

Having restricted Shiels to a brief cameo off the bench in Friday's 2-0 defeat in Russia, O'Neill is ready to give him the chance to prove his credentials. "Looking at the personnel, there's a number of players that the Russia game didn't suit from a tactical point of view but a home game would," he said.

"Obviously Dean comes into the equation. I think Dean Shiels is a goal threat. He still has to get off the mark at international level but in many ways his career at this level is only really kicking off at this moment in time.

"If you see him in training you see his quality in general play but also in front of goal. He scored 15 for Kilmarnock last season in the SPL from midfield."

Another player vying for a return to the first team is Newcastle's Shane Ferguson. The 21-year-old was an impressive performer in each of O'Neill's first three games in charge but missed the opening qualifier in Moscow with a groin problem. He has since rejoined the squad and O'Neill is looking forward to having the pacy midfielder at his disposal again.

"His return is important for us," he said. "Shane is a young player so you don't want to load too much responsibility or expectation on him at this minute in time, but certainly in the games he's played since I took over he's been a real positive.

"He looks very bright and sharp in training but he had a poor pre-season which was interrupted due to injury. That is why we left him with his club to get up to speed for this game. It's great to have him back in, he's always going to give us something whether he starts the game or comes from the bench."

Despite home advantage making Northern Ireland favourites against Luxembourg, O'Neill is on his guard after they took a surprise lead against Portugal on Friday, eventually losing just 2-1.

"When you look at the group we have you could say the perception is that this will be our easiest game, but you'd only need to have a conversation with the Portuguese and their manager to know it's not going to be straightforward," he added.

Source: PA