O'Neill welcomes Reeves to NI fold

26 February 2014 12:46

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is hoping to benefit from Southampton's famed production line after calling up former Saints midfielder Ben Reeves.

The likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw have helped the south-coast club develop a reputation as one of the English game's finest talent schools, and Reeves started his career at St Mary's.

The 22-year-old left for MK Dons in the summer after a handful of first-team appearances, but has quickly settled with 10 goals in 31 matches this season.

That form has earned him a place in the Northern Ireland squad that faces Cyprus in a friendly on March 5, and O'Neill is pleased to have him on board.

"Ben is a player I've known was eligible, through his grandmother, for about 12 months or so, since he was at Southampton," he told Press Association Sport.

"He struggled to make the breakthrough there into the big time, but they are such a good grounding for youngsters and their academy is recognised for the quality players it is producing.

"Ben is rebuilding at MK Dons now, playing well and scoring goals from midfield.

"I've been monitoring him closely for three or four months and he's had some really good games in that time. I went to meet him personally and he's decided to throw his hat in with Northern Ireland, which is good news."

Reeves is part of a 22-man squad headed for Nicosia, but key men such as Jonny Evans (injured), Chris Baird (unattached) and Aaron Hughes (personal reasons) are absent.

All three started together in defence in the side's last match - a 1-0 defeat in Turkey last November - but it is the area of the pitch where O'Neill is best covered.

"There's Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart, who's played a lot under me. Alex Bruce hasn't played that much but he's fit and playing now for Hull and we have Rory McArdle too," O'Neill said.

"We may have to have a little versatility, but it gives others opportunities."

The match also provides a chance for the likes of Paddy McCourt, Dean Shiels and Kyle Lafferty.

The attacking trio all had campaigns to forget in World Cup qualifying, McCourt and Shiels often left out by O'Neill and Lafferty struggling for fitness before blotting his copybook with a needless sending-off against Portugal.

"They're all fit and ready, and that's good because we need competition for places, especially in the final third of the pitch," O'Neill added.

Northern Ireland have two more friendlies - in Uruguay and Chile - before the start of Euro 2016 qualification, where they face Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Faroe Islands in Group F.

Northern Ireland squad to play Cyprus on March 5 in Nicosia: R Carroll (Olympiacos), A Mannus (St Johnstone), M McGovern (Falkirk), D Lafferty (Burnley), R McGivern (Hibernian), G McAuley (West Brom), R McArdle (Bradford), C Cathcart (Blackpool), A Bruce (Hull), S Ferguson (Newcastle), S Davis (Capt, Southampton), O Norwood (Huddersfield), C Brunt (West Brom), S Clingan (Kilmarnock), P McCourt (Barnsley), B Reeves (MK Dons), N McGinn (Aberdeen), B McKay (Inverness), M Paterson (Huddersfield), J Ward (Derby), D Shiels (Rangers), K Lafferty (Palermo).

Source: PA