O'Neill willing to stick with Rangers duo
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill will give Dean Shiels and Andy Little every chance to prove they can combine life in the fourth tier of Scottish football with a FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign.
Both men are committed to Rangers - and at least a season in Scottish Division Three - after Little signed a new deal at Ibrox in the summer and Shiels agreed a move from Kilmarnock.
O'Neill, who was in contact with both players over their contract decisions, admits he will have to keep a careful eye on the duo as the campaign progresses but did not hesitate to select them for tonight's home friendly against Finland.
If they can impress at Windsor Park - and continue to do so when the qualifiers get under way - O'Neill may be willing to look beyond their club situation. "I've spoken to managers of other national associations and some judge players more on when they play for the national team than when they play for their clubs," he said.
"Players will be judged on how they do with us, not just in games but in the time and preparation we put in on the training pitch. That will be a big factor in their inclusion in squads, it's not just current form. Both lads have not looked out of place here at all and I wouldn't expect that to be the case as the season progresses."
"Everyone asks 'will the level they're playing at prepare them to play internationals?' Well, the reality is they've only played a couple of games so we're not really able to assess that at this minute in time. We will be able to assess that throughout the season, but certainly both players have looked very sharp."
Tonight's match pits O'Neill against one of the men who gave him his first breaks in coaching - Finland boss Mixu Paatelainen. O'Neill worked briefly as Paatelainen's assistant at Cowdenbeath before embarking on life as a number one - and made a strong impression.
Paatelainen, while desperate to put one over O'Neill when their sides meet on the pitch, is full of admiration for the Northern Irishman. "I know Michael really well," he told Press Association Sport. "We played together at Dundee United and we worked together at Cowdenbeath, he was my colleague when I was manager there.
"It was great to work with him because he is a very intelligent guy. It did not surprise me that he did so well with Shamrock Rovers last season. He has had a very difficult start to his time with Northern Ireland but I am 100 per cent sure he will improve things here because of the way he thinks and what he can bring."
Additionally, a minute's silence will be held before kick-off as fans get the chance to pay tribute to former national captain Alan McDonald. The 52-cap veteran died in June at the age of 48 and his son and brother will lead the teams out.