Belfast Telegraph

Super Striker Lafferty has it all, says Northern Ireland boss O'Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill hailed the 'outstanding' performance of Kyle Lafferty at Windsor Park last night, insisting club bosses all around England should be knocking his door down to try and sign him.

Lafferty was the star turn for Northern Ireland in this Euro campaign once again, scoring twice in the 2-1 victory against Finland which kept O'Neill's men on course to qualify for next year's finals in France.

It surprises O'Neill that Lafferty is not as big a hit at club level because over the past eight months on the international scene he has been sensational.

Lafferty had to move from Norwich to Turkish side Caykur Rizespor in January to try and earn game time in his preferred centre forward position - the latest transfer in a club career filled with them in which the 27-year-old from Kesh has not lived up to his undoubted potential.

For O'Neill, though, in Group F he has shone every time he has put on the Northern Ireland shirt, netting five times in five Euro qualifiers.

"Kyle's going on the pitch for Northern Ireland believing he's capable of scoring in every game," said O'Neill, a highly satisfied figure following his team's vital victory.

"He's in the David Healy situation where things at club level maybe aren't going as well as he'd like, given his move to Norwich and subsequent loan move to Rizespor, but when he's played for us in this campaign he's been outstanding.

"And not just when he has scored goals, he was also outstanding in Romania when he didn't score.

"He's showed what he's capable of on this kind of stage. Against Finland he produced two fantastic finishes.

"I'm delighted for Kyle. I think there's so much potential in him as a player and it's nice to see him start to fulfil that."

Asked why Lafferty was constantly on the move at club level, O'Neill stated: "I can't really comment on what other managers see.

"At the end of the day I only have him for a week, which is maybe a good thing, and they have him every day!

"The left centre back for Finland plays for Ajax and I believe he's going to Roma, the two centre backs for Greece, who Kyle played really well against, play for Borussia Dortmund and Roma and we've seen him deliver against Hungary as well.

"I can't comment on why club managers in recent times haven't stuck with him but he is showing what he's capable of against top class European defenders.

"His club situation is not going to change now before the end of this season so I won't dwell on that, but anyone who watched that game against Finland with Kyle in that kind of mood on that kind of form has to think about, if he's not in your team how can you get him in your team.

"There'll be a lot of managers who look at that performance and be very keen to explore the opportunity of bringing Kyle to their club if his future is not at Norwich."

In his post match press conference, O'Neill revealed that ahead of the Finland game he faced his toughest decision as an international manager leaving Aaron Hughes out with Jonny Evans coming in to play his first game of the campaign in defence.

"Leaving out Aaron was the most difficult decision I have had to make in my three years as manager, in terms of team selection," said O'Neill.

"Everyone knows what Aaron Hughes is about and what his qualities are as a player and individual. I sat with Aaron a few nights ago and talked about his situation at his club Brighton. He hasn't played much club football recently and he fully understood where I was coming from.

"And Aaron being Aaron, he took it in his professional style.

"He is still a huge part of this squad, but now we have competition for places.

"It is only a matter of time before Aaron gets his 96th cap and goes on to win 100.

"Jonny (Evans) showed today what a top class player he is," added O'Neill, who says even with 12 points from 15 he won't get carried away thinking his team are bound for France.

Belfast Telegraph