BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
MICHAEL O’NEILL has named six Scottish-based stars in his Northern Ireland squad to face Norway in World Cup qualification.
Veteran defender Aaron Hughes, who boasts 104 caps, is included in the 24-man group despite missing Hearts’ last two fixture with a calf strain and remaining a doubt for Saturday’s Premiership clash against Hamilton.
Ross County ace Liam Boyce, who agonisingly missed out on a Euro 2016 place, is rewarded for his 14 goals this term with a call-up, while Rangers’ Lee Hodson and Aberdeen talisman Niall McGinn have made the cut.
St Johnstone duo Paul Paton and Alan Mannus complete the SPFL interest in O’Neill’s squad.
Northern Ireland lie in second spot in Group C as they seek to reach Russia 2018 – five points behind Germany – and face Norway on March 26.
The Scandinavian nation have endured a nightmare start to to qualification, having picked up just three points from four games, but will hope for a new manager bounce after appointing the architect of Iceland’s Euro 2016 heroics, Lars Lagerback, as their boss.
Northern Ireland squad: McGovern (Norwich City), Mannus (St Johnstone), Carroll (Linfield), Hughes (Hearts), McAuley (West Brom), Evans (West Brom), Brunt (West Brom), Cathcart (Watford), C McLaughlin (Fleetwood Town), Hodson (Rangers), R McLaughlin (Oldham Athletic), Flanagan (Burton Albion), Davis (Southampton), McGinn (Aberdeen), Norwood (Brighton), Evans (Blackburn Rovers), Ward (Nottingham Forest), Dallas (Leeds Utd), Paton (St Johnstone), Lund (Rochdale), Lafferty (Norwich City), Magennis (Charlton Athletic), Washington (QPR), Boyce (Ross County).