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We cannot and will not let Northern Ireland fans down again: Kyle Lafferty

By Steven Beacom

Kyle Lafferty wants the real Northern Ireland to stand up in Lyon tomorrow evening.

In Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Poland, the Norwich City striker felt that Michael O'Neill's men were a shadow of the side they can be and is determined that won't be the case in the Euro 2016 Group C crunch clash against Ukraine.

The Fermanagh man has admitted that if Northern Ireland fail to dramatically improve their performance they will be going home earlier than they hoped - or expected.

He says since the weekend loss in Nice, the players have been working hard on putting things right second time around and earning a win that could help take them into the knockout stages of the tournament.

"Maybe the occasion took over and we didn't turn up," said Lafferty. "We were a shadow of the team that got us here.

"Everyone is using the days before the Ukraine game to see what went wrong and see how we can fix it. The good thing is we've got two more games to put it right and try to get out of the group."

Asked if nerves had played a big part in Northern Ireland's disappointing start to the tournament, Lafferty replied: "It's easy to stand here and say that it did. It's okay talking about nerves but the fight and the determination were not there either.

"We just got hit by a very good Poland side and we didn't know what to do.

"Whenever we've faced teams like that before we could take control of it, take the game by the scruff of the neck and create chances but we didn't do that against Poland.

"We pretty much froze on the spot. It's disappointing because the fans have travelled here and we should have put on a better performance for them.

"Poland have world class players, but if we'd turned up against them we would've hoped to have given them a better game.

"We didn't do that so we've no excuses. We're looking into it, getting our heads sorted, getting our tactics right and I know we'll put up a far better performance."

Lafferty, shooting from the hip and speaking from the heart, stated he felt the performance against the Poles let the fans down.

"Everyone was disappointed by the Poland game," he said.

"For Michael, for his coaching staff, for all the people who've paid good money to come out here we let them down and we'll put it right on Thursday.

"Not one player will let the fans down. Even if we don't get the result we want on Thursday, the fight and determination that got us here will be there."

Lafferty added that if Northern Ireland deliver the same level of display against Ukraine, it won't be good enough to stay in France.

"We're not in the qualifiers any more where you might come up against some of the minnows, we're playing against the best 24 teams in Europe and if you don't turn up you're getting punished," said the 28-year-old.

"Obviously we would have liked to have picked up something against Poland but after that performance we're not going to have another one like it against Ukraine.

"A win could take us out of this group.

"We still have belief. We've got two games against Ukraine and then Germany to put it right and I'm sure we'll give a better performance than we did against Poland.

"We didn't get disgraced. We went a goal down and when you play against teams like Poland you can't go 1-0 down, then turn up and expect to get something out of it."

Lafferty was fired up for his first piece of tournament action but for much of the game found himself isolated in attack.

He had been hoping to light up the Euro finals with a goal against the Poles, but didn't even have a sniff of a chance as he fed off scraps.

"It was difficult," he admitted.

"It wasn't a game in which I was going to see much of the ball.

"We might have used the ball a bit better but I'm not going to stand here and label other players.

"It's a team game. But as an overall team performance it wasn't good enough and we should have done better. It was the first stage and we didn't turn up.

"Now we must put that right. It's my view that we can do that when we face Ukraine."

Belfast Telegraph