Defenders wary of Poland yellow peril
Four Northern Ireland players will run the gauntlet in Poland on Saturday night, with the risk of missing the country’s most important home match in a generation.
And a flurry of bookings for the men in question could plunge manager Nigel Worthington into a defensive crisis.
Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, George McCartney and Ryan McGivern will enter the game on a yellow card and another misdemeanor will rule them out of next Wednesday’s home game against current group leaders Slovakia.
Captain Aaron Hughes is guaranteed to start and Stephen Craigan is almost certain to be alongside him, leaving three of those players — McAuley, Evans and McCartney — in the mix for the other two defensive berths.
McGivern will be in reserve to cover any of the defensive positions.
Evans and McCartney have already served suspensions during the current campaign and are now on a third yellow card.
Not since Gerry Armstrong’s goal to give Northern Ireland a 1-0 win over Israel in November 1981 has there been a more eagerly anticipated international at Windsor Park — and that’s irrespective of what happens in Poland at the weekend, with hopes of qualification for a first World Cup finals since 1986 still very much alive.
Kyle Lafferty and Chris Brunt have also served bans, while Chris Baird won’t travel to Poland as he is under suspension.