Wednesday 21 February 2018

O'Neill revels in duo's cup upset

Ben Reeves, left, and Will Grigg followed their victory over Manchester United with call-ups to the Northern Ireland squad
Ben Reeves, left, and Will Grigg followed their victory over Manchester United with call-ups to the Northern Ireland squad

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is hoping to receive an indirect boost from MK Dons' surprise thrashing of Manchester United.

Midfielder Ben Reeves and striker Will Grigg were key performers as the League One side routed the Red Devils 4-0, playing provider and finisher for the first two goals of the game.

Now the duo's successful week has continued with the pair being called-up for Northern Ireland's first Euro 2016 qualifier in Hungary on September 7.

Reeves, 22, has been in squads before but remains uncapped while 23-year-old Grigg has five senior appearances to his name, largely from the bench.

The pair are junior members of a 26-man provisional party named by O'Neill for the trip to Budapest, but their day in the spotlight provided the national manager with real reason for optimism.

"Confidence is everything in footall and Ben and Griggsy will be coming off a real high after the Manchester United win," he told Press Association Sport.

"A televised game, a big home crowd, a win over a side like that is big for their belief.

"When you see them playing at that level, with that kind of exposure and scrutiny and they step up and deal with it that is a huge positive.

"The biggest thing for me with my players is are they fit and in a good frame of mind and the next thing is how well they are doing at their club.

"Griggsy has had a good start to the season after a difficult year at Brenftford and Ben is a player who is an excellent technical player who can really give me something to think about."

O'Neill plans to cut three names from his initial list before travelling to Budapest for his side's Group F curtain-raiser, but will get the chance to work with the full panel before departing.

That includes returning senior men such as Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt, Jamie Ward and Kyle Lafferty - who all missed the summer friendlies in Uruguay and Chile - as well as the liks of Luke McCullough, Conor and Ryan McLaughlin and Josh Magennis, who stood in for them in South America.

"We have a good lead in to this game and bringing 26 in gives us the option of working with the players again. South America was a very positive experience but I haven't seen the lads in three months," he said.

"We'll cut it to 23 before travelling but it's good to keep some of the younger players in the set-up to reward them for how well they did on the tour."

Jonny Evans, who is suspended after his sending off in Azerbaijan in the penultimate game of the previous campaign, the injured Martin Paterson and Brighton winger Paddy McCourt are the only significant absentees.

Northern Ireland squad to face Hungary: R Carroll (Notts County), A Mannus (St Johnstone), M McGovern (Hamilton), A Hughes (Brighton), C Baird, G McAuley (both West Brom), C Cathcart (Watford), D Lafferty (Burnley), R McLaughlin (Liverpool), C McLaughlin (Fleetwood), L McCullough (Doncaster), A Bruce (Hull), S Davis (Southampton), C Brunt (West Brom), S Clingan (Kilmarnock), C Evans (Blackburn), O Norwood (Reading), S Ferguson (Newcastle), P Paton (Dundee Utd), B Reeves (MK Dons), K Lafferty (Norwich), N McGinn (Aberdeen), J Ward (Derby), B McKay (Inverness), J Magennis (Kilmarnock), W Grigg (MK Dons).

Press Association

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