O'Neill welcomes Paterson return
Michael O'Neill has welcomed Martin Paterson back into the international fold and set him the challenge of leading Northern Ireland's line against Russia next week.
The Burnley striker withdrew from the squad to face Portugal in October and began a self-imposed exile as he looked to finally conquer the fitness issues that have plagued him in recent seasons. O'Neill insisted at the time the door was not shut and, after remaining in contact with him, has restored the 25-year-old for the World Cup qualifying double-header against Russia and Israel at Windsor Park.
It is certainly handy timing, with first-choice centre-forward Kyle Lafferty suspended for the first of those matches and Dean Shiels missing with a season-ending knee injury. "At the time, Martin was in a difficult place injury-wise with his club and he's had a lot of problems in the last 12 months," O'Neill told Press Association Sport.
"In light of that he just felt at the time he needed to concentrate on his fitness and get a run of games together. He felt being involved at international level would not help and I understood that. I wanted to have him involved but he felt it was better to take himself out.
"We kept the dialogue open and I spoke to Martin soon after Christmas when he'd played for the best part of three months injury-free and he is happy to come back."
Paterson, who scored his first international goal from the penalty spot in his last appearance against Finland, still faces competition for a starting spot though.
Will Grigg has scored seven times in his last four matches, albeit in npower League One with Walsall, Billy McKay and Niall McGinn are enjoying prolific seasons in Scotland, and Jamie Ward has netted 11 times for Derby this term.
However, McKay, Grigg and Ward have just seven caps between them and McGinn has been used exclusively as a winger by O'Neill, leaving Paterson with a big chance.
"Martin is obviously a bit more experienced than the other options like William or McKay.
"They are both doing extremely well but are relatively inexperienced at international level. Martin has experience of the Championship and the Premier League and although he hasn't played as much internationally as we'd like, partly because of his injuries, he's certainly a nice option to have. Kyle's ban is an opportunity for someone to state their case."