The 2022 World Cup qualifiers are fast approaching, with Northern Ireland starting their campaign with a difficult match away in Italy, before facing the USA in a friendly match at Windsor Park. Bulgaria then make the trip to Belfast for the host’s second qualifier of the international break.
There are a number of players who are eligible for Northern Ireland that haven’t been involved in recent squads – or at all – that deserve a call-up for the next international squad. So here is three players who I think should be putting on the Green and White shirt at the end of March.
- Dion Charles
The former Northern Ireland under-21 international has been scoring goals for fun this season for Accrington Stanley.
He played 33 times last seasons, picking up eight goals and four assists, but this season he has excelled in a centre-forward role, including scoring a hat-trick against MK Dons.
Northern Ireland need an in-form striker for their difficult set of fixtures in March and Charles could bring a new dynamic to the Northern Ireland front-line if he was given the chance.
I don’t think he would start for Northern Ireland, with experience being the priority against Italy at least. However, he would be an excellent player to bring on for the final ten minutes to run at the Italian defence and potentially change the game.
I would like to see him get a call-up and get some minutes against the USA to get him settled into the International camp. If he can continue this form for the rest of the season and into the next, he might just be a key player for Northern Ireland going forward.
- Will Grigg
Will Grigg is back on fire after making a loan move to MK Dons. He was a member of the Northern Ireland squad for Euro 2016 but has really gone missing on the international stage since then.
He has really struggled for form over the past few seasons, with that goal for Wigan to knock Manchester City out of the FA now three years old.
It would be great to see Grigg back in the Northern Ireland set-up as he could bring a lot to the team, especially of the bench. I don’t see Baraclough choosing both him and Charles, with the latter arguably in better form over the course of the season.
Grigg has scored four goals and assisted four times since his return to MK Dons and if he got the chance to play in the upcoming qualifiers or the friendly against the USA, it might just motivate some of the older forwards to pick up their form.
- Conor Hazard
A player who has been a regular part of the Northern Ireland set-up in recent months, but only due to injuries and unavailability to the main Northern Ireland keepers.
Hazard has had a breakthrough season at Celtic, playing five times for the first team including their UEFA Europa League tie against LOSC Lille.
He was also played in the final of the 2019/20 Scottish Cup against Hearts and was the hero in the penalty shout-out. I should add that this game was played on the 20th December 2020 after it was postponed due to COVID-19, so it was played during the 2020/21 season.
Every time he has played, he has looked assured and is showing the potential of a solid keeper going forward. He won’t start ahead of Peacock-Farrell but should get a start against the USA if he is called up. It really depends on Trevor Carson and whether or not he is available after picking up a knee injury for Motherwell.