SHANE Ferguson is one of a strong contingent of Derry footballers currently plying their trade in The Championship this season.
The Eglinton lad is gaining valuable experience at Birmingham City where he’s been battling for regular football since renewing his loan spell from his parent club, Newcastle United.
Ferguson, on loan at St Andrew’s until the end of the current season, is in the company of James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Paddy McCourt (Barnsley), Danny Lafferty (Burnley) and Shane Duffy (Yeovil) and former Derry City winger Stephen McLaughlin (Nottingham Forest) in the second tier of the English Football League.
And while Ferguson is enjoying his spell with the ‘Blues,’ he has struggled to establish himself as a first team regular this season.
The N. Ireland international - who has two years remaining on his contract with Newcastle - joined Lee Clark’s side in April last year and made an instant impact.
However, after agreeing to a season-long loan spell at the West Midlands club this year, he has failed to find the form that he showed during the 2012/13 season, when the 22-year-old winger made 11 appearances for Birmingham having already played 14 times for Newcastle United.
Capable of playing at full-back or wide left of midfield, Ferguson made his ‘Magpies’ debut in August 2010, but has since found chances limited and he agreed with team boss, Alan Pardew the best way to develop his game would be by securing another loan spell.
This year Ferguson has made 17 appearances (14 in the league and three in cup competitions) but he feels he can work towards nailing down a regular spot in the starting line-up of a Birmingham team currently sitting in 17th place in the table.
Birmingham have been enjoying a rich spell of good form of late which hasn’t made it any easier for the Derry lad to break into the squad, but Ferguson was involved as a late substitute on Saturday when the club’s 11 game unbeaten run - the longest unbeaten run in the Championship so far - came to an end at Brighton.
But the affable Co. Derry lad is prepared to bide his time and, with no plans to return to North East before the season’s end, he believes he can force his way into a regular berth at Birmingham.
“Things are going good at the minute,” said Ferguson. “Obviously when the team is playing well and getting results it’s difficult to get into the starting line-up at times.
“So I just have to bide my time. I came here to play games and get experience. I’ve played a good few games this season, maybe 16 or 17 games and it’s good to get game time instead of sitting on the bench at Newcastle.”
The former Eglinton Eagles and Maiden City Soccer Academy graduate, believes he is developing his game well under ‘Blues’ boss, Clark and is looking forward to the final months of the season.
“I think I’ve developed well during my time at St. Andrew’s and obviously with the experienced lads at this club it’s helped as well.
“I’m always learning and that’s what I’m here to do,” he added. “I want to learn as much as I can and take that back to Newcastle and try and get back into the team again.
“I haven’t been talking to Alan Pardew, but I’ll be on loan at Birmingham until the end of the season and I think Newcastle can call me back at any time from now until then if they need me.
“Newcastle are flying at the minute so it would be difficult to break back into that team. Hopefully I can stay here and get plenty of games under my belt and keep progressing.
“There’s plenty of games coming up in the FA Cup and in the league, so hopefully I can get a steady run in the side from now until the end of the season.
“The manager will probably bring in a few new players this month as well for cover so there will be a lot of players fighting for positions.”
N. Ireland manager, Michael O’Neill rates Ferguson highly and the winger has relished the opportunity to play at international level against some of the top teams in the world.
“The international football has helped me a lot. Playing against some of the best players in the world and teams like Russia and Portugal has been a great experience for me.
“They are always moments you remember as a player and it’s great to be a regular in the Northern Ireland team because that gives you loads of confidence.”
Ferguson recently rubbed shoulders with N. Ireland teammate, Paddy McCourt when Birmingham met Barnsley and he will come up against another Derry man, Shane Duffy in the club’s next Championship fixture against Yeovil this weekend.
“It’s good to see the Derry lads doing well over here (in the Championship),” added the Eglinton man.
“I know Danny Lafferty well from the N. Ireland set-up and he’s good to play with. And I played against Paddy (McCourt) a couple of weeks ago so it was also good to see him doing well.”