Those with merely a passing interest would be forgiven for not knowing the name of the Scottish Premier League player of the month for October. For those in the know, though, it is clear that Aberdeen FC's Niall McGinn has been making quite the impression for both club and country.
The Northern Ireland striker has scored seven goals in as many league games for Aberdeen and has been in fine form for the Pittodrie club ever since joining from Celtic FC in the summer. Scorer of his country's goal in last month's 1-1 draw in Portugal, McGinn now has his sights trained on FIFA World Cup qualifying Group F rivals Azerbaijan, who visit Windsor Park on Wednesday evening.
"Niall is on a terrific run of goalscoring form and that's a real positive for us," said national team manager Michael O'Neill. "He's breaking all sorts of goalscoring records at Aberdeen. He is playing with confidence and is at the top of his game. His club form will put him in a good frame of mind for the qualifier."
McGinn recently passed former Pittodrie favourite Duncan Shearer's 1992 mark of scoring in five successive games for the Dons. He is now just one short of equalling Frank McDougall's 1984 club record of finding the net in eight consecutive league matches, a feat achieved during a title-winning campaign under Sir Alex Ferguson.
"This is the best goalscoring spell of my career," said McGinn. "I'm enjoying my football and to score so regularly has been a real bonus for me. The manager [Craig Brown] has shown faith in me and I hope I am repaying that. To score my first international goal against Portugal last month was also a dream come true. Things are going well at both club and international level."
Though McGinn's strike helped to raise spirits after a 2-0 defeat by Russia and a 1-1 draw with Luxembourg, Northern Ireland are still seeking a first victory in qualifying. Indeed O'Neill is yet to pick up a win since taking charge in February, a duck he will have to break this week without injured Manchester United FC centre-back Jonny Evans.
"Our performance in Portugal has given us renewed confidence and belief," said the former Shamrock Rovers FC manager. "If anything, the players were disappointed to lead 1-0 in Porto and concede a late equaliser. The reality is, however, that we need to build on the Portugal performance with another positive result against Azerbaijan. It will be tough, but we have to target three points." That would take O'Neill's team to within two points of Israel and Portugal, who are second and third respectively.
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