Sam Clucas and Harry Souttar have been named in the EFL team of the week.
Clucas has been rewarded for his two-goals showing for Stoke City in a 5-1 win over Hull at the weekend.
It took his season’s tally to 10 – the first central midfielder to reach double figures in a league season for the Potters since Graham Kavanagh 21 years ago.
Michael O’Neill said: “Clucas has been brilliant, no doubt about that.
“Not only the types of goals that he does score but his all-round play, his quality on the ball, his ability to win the second ball, competition to win the ball in the air. Everything.
“I didn’t really know Sam much as a player before I came to the club but quite quickly I realised I had a top class player on my hands and he’s proven to be that.
“We need a lot from Sam before the end of the season in the absence of Joe.”
Souttar helped loan club Fleetwood Town to a 0-0 draw with Blackpool on Saturday – he won 10 out 10 aerial duels – and 2-2 draw at league rivals Portsmouth last night, when he scored from close range… moments after he had put one in his own net.
Fleetwood are now fifth in League One and within two points of the top two automatic promotion spots. They are unbeaten in 12 – and Souttar has also been named EFL young player of the month.
Manager Joey Barton said: “Two goals in a game for big Soutch, so he’s a goalscoring defender.
“When you look at the own goals, at the top of the charts is usually the best defenders.
“He won’t bother about that, he’s picked himself up and dusted himself off and gone down the other end and got the goal back so credit to him.
“It’s enormous credit to the lads. They worked really hard in the analysis of the opposition and the analysis of the weaknesses and we felt we spotted a weakness in a very big physical Portsmouth side. I thought we were unlucky not to score three or four from corners.”
There was no place, however, for Nick Powell, who played a key role in Stoke’s weekend and also scored two.
EFL team of the week: Sluga (Luton), Ayling (Leeds), Winchester (Forest Green), Souttar (Fleetwood), Clucas (Stoke), Dasilva (Brentford), Cooper (Plymouth), Marcondes (Brentford), Clarke-Harris (Bristol Rovers), Poku (Colchester), Smith (Millwall).