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Euro 2016: Blame will lie with players if Northern Ireland slip up now: Lafferty

Hitman reveals Romania game was most nerve wracking of his career

By Steven Beacom

Published 15/06/2015

Missed opportunity: Kyle Lafferty can’t believe it as a chance goes begging against Romania at Windsor
Missed opportunity: Kyle Lafferty can’t believe it as a chance goes begging against Romania at Windsor

Kyle Lafferty has admitted that the Northern Ireland players will only have themselves to blame if they don't reach the Euro 2016 finals.

And in a typically frank post-match interview, Lafferty revealed that Saturday's scoreless draw against Romania at Windsor Park was the most nerve wrecking game he has ever played in.

Lafferty had the best chance of the match late on, but snatched at it just as the Northern Ireland fans were preparing to celebrate his sixth goal of the campaign.

The 27-year-old from Fermanagh was disappointed not to hit the net, knowing it would have taken Northern Ireland to the top of the Group F table.

He is aware, however, that Michael O'Neill's team, one point behind leaders Romania and two ahead of third-placed Hungary, remain in a strong position to finish in the top two places and qualify automatically for next year's finals in France.

"If we mess this up, it's ourselves to blame," he said.

"We can't look to blame anyone else, we can't blame the manager because the way he organises us and sets us up is spot on. It's up to us and how much we want it and how much we want to send the country to the Euros."

On Saturday's match, Lafferty added: "We were disappointed with a point, given the way Romania set out and how Michael organised us.

"We would have taken a point at the start but we are gutted now not to have walked away with all three.

"They definitely were not as good as they were in Romania. They were missing a few players and we showed what we can do when we have a full-strength squad. They will fly back to Romania buzzing with a point and happy they are still at the top of the group."

It could have been different had Lafferty, in space inside the area, smacked home a wonderful opportunity near the end rather than allow the Romanian goalkeeper to make a comfortable save after Gareth McAuley had nodded a set-piece in his direction.

"Before the free-kick came in I said to Big G (McAuley) to head it across because I knew if he was going to win the header it would come to me but I snatched at it first time," admitted the Kesh native.

"Afterwards I looked around and realised I could have taken a touch and composed myself but it was just one of those things.

"It was a decision I had to make straight away."

Not for the first time in this campaign Lafferty worked tirelessly for the cause. All that was missing was the type of glorious finish he has provided five times already in Group F.

That may have been because of the tension inside the ground. Lafferty felt it. He may have played numerous times for his country and in Cup finals and title deciders for Rangers, but nothing compared to Saturday night.

"That's the first game in five years that I've been nervous about," he said.

"I was so excited to get out there. The trust Michael has shown in me, I'm so excited to play for him every time. I just can't wait to pull on the shirt for him.

"Obviously it was such an important game. I've played in games to win the League for Rangers and Cup finals, but I've never felt like that. We're so close and everyone is starting to believe we can make it. I'm sure we will."

That confidence bodes well for the trip to take on the Faroe Islands in September. Despite the Faroes beating Greece on Saturday night, Northern Ireland will enter that match as favourites.

Lafferty is certain that they will approach it in the same professional manner as the other fixtures to date.

"Michael has us in the right mindset now. We're not a team who will beat the top dogs and then lose against the lower teams," said Lafferty.

"I'm pretty sure we will go out there with the same mindset and determination. We know how close we are. All the lads are itching. We just wish the two games were next week.

"We've got a few weeks' holiday and then we go back to our clubs, but already we are looking forward to meeting up in August and kicking on with the campaign.

"It's going to be a tough game. We played them off the park here when we beat them earlier in the campaign.

"It is away from home and it's a 3G artificial pitch over there. It's going to suit them better, but you only have to look at some of the names in our squad. Ultimately I think it's down to us."

Belfast Telegraph

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