NI welcome back several players for Azerbaijan clash

Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill welcomes back several players to his squad for the World Cup qualifier with Azerbaijan in Belfast on 14 November.

Gareth McAuley returns after suspension while Chris Brunt, Pat McCourt, Shane Ferguson, Andrew Little, Jamie Ward and Grant McCann are back after injury.

Alex Bruce, previously capped by the Republic of Ireland, stays in the squad after missing the 1-1 draw in Portugal.

Goalkeeper Lee Camp and striker Martin Paterson remain absentees.

Nottingham Forest player Camp pulled out of the squad to face Luxembourg at Windsor Park in September for "personal reasons" and has not returned to the panel.

Burnley forward Paterson withdrew from the recent trip to Portugal because of ongoing injury concerns but played and scored in his club's 2-0 win over Wolves on Saturday.

There has been no signal yet that Paterson plans to retire from international duty, but with a poor injury record in recent years and a new manager in the shape of Sean Dyche to impress at Turf Moor, he appears to be out of consideration at present.

"The conversation we had with Martin last time was that he was not available and that he would come back to me when he was," said O'Neill.

"I would like Martin to be available and I've selected him every time he has been.

"I still think he could be a very important player for us but he is wary because of his injury problems and I understand his reasons.

"I appreciate it from a professional point of view, he had a difficult decision to make and he made that decision.

"I have to respect that but I want this squad as strong as possible and I would like to have him."

Bruce received his first call-up for the Group F qualifier in Porto but was unable to join up with the squad.

Midfielder Sammy Clingan is not included despite earning a rolling month-to-month deal with Doncaster Rovers.

Subject to withdrawals, O'Neill faces some major selection dilemmas as several players who may have been regarded as being on the fringes of the squad made their case for a starting place in the heroic draw against the third-ranked team in the world.

"There are always going to be decisions to make about who starts and who doesn't start," admitted the former Shamrock Rovers boss.

"Sometimes players are left out of a team not because of their last performance but because of the approach we might take on the night.

"This is a game we intend to win, to play really positively on the front foot.

"We'll be positive from the off and that will be a factor in the team we start with against Azerbaijan."

Niall McGinn scored Northern Ireland's goal in Porto and is in a rich vein of form, having found the net six times in six successive league games for his club Aberdeen in the Scottish Premier League.

Northern Ireland have two points from their opening three fixtures, while Azerbaijan have one from their first three games.

Northern Ireland squad: Goalkeepers: Roy Carroll (Olympiakos), Alan Mannus (St Johnstone), Michael McGovern (Falkirk).

Defenders: Aaron Hughes (Fulham), Ryan McGivern (Manchester City), Jonathan Evans (Manchester Utd), Craig Cathcart (Blackpool), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Alex Bruce (Hull City).

Midfielders: Chris Baird (Fulham), Steven Davis (Southampton), Oliver Norwood (Huddersfield Town), Corry Evans (Hull City), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Pat McCourt (Celtic), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Shane Ferguson (Newcastle Utd), Grant McCann (Peterborough Utd).

Forwards: David Healy (Bury), Dean Shiels (Rangers), Kyle Lafferty (Sion), Will Grigg (Walsall), Jamie Ward (Derby County), Andrew Little (Rangers).