Nigel Worthington’s star performer in Slovenia has predicted Northern Ireland will turn around their disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign by shocking the Group Three favourites in their own back yards.
The 2-0 defeat in Maribor on Saturday night has left Northern Ireland reeling as they have registered only one point from a possible nine.
Northern Ireland lie in fifth position in Group Three – six points behind joint leaders Poland and Slovenia.
Even at this early stage Northern Ireland could already be out of the running for automatic qualification considering only one team from the group goes through.
The men in green would need to win their eight remaining fixtures to stand a chance and that includes away victories over Poland and the Czech Republic next autumn.
Rangers hitman Kyle Lafferty, who tortured the Slovenian defence on his comeback to international football, believes, for some reason unknown to him, Northern Ireland always seem to perform better against the bigger footballing nations.
And therefore Lafferty, who is well aware of the shocking away statastic – two wins in 31 competitive matches since 1996 – insists Northern Ireland can travel to Warsaw and Prague and come away with six points.
“Saturday’s defeat was hard to stomach considering the chances we had and how we played,” admitted Lafferty today.
“That loss though has been put to the back of our minds and now our focus has shifted to San Marino – a team we know very little about but anticipate a real defensive approach from them.
“We need to prepare fully for them, be professional and then do the job everyone expects us to carry out – a win and a few goals.
“I would hope I have done enough to keep my place for the match and if I do then I’ll certainly be looking to increase my international goal tally.
“We’re still very much in this qualifying group and two wins (six points) over San Marino would bring us right back into contention.
“We know the start hasn’t been great and we’re playing catch up but that is the challenge we’ll need to overcome if we want to go to South Africa in 2010.
“We’ll need to go to Poland and the Czech Republic and secure maximum points against them. That may sound weird at the moment because we’ve just suffered a loss to Slovenia but I truly believe it is possible.
“We’ve beaten some of the top sides in Europe and therefore why should we fear anybody?
“I know all those matches were at Windsor but it’s about time our luck changed and hopefully we’ll defeat Poland and the Czech Republic in their own stadiums to give ourselves a chance.”
Lafferty on Wednesday night will once again link up with Northern Ireland’s record goalscorer David Healy up front.
And the 21-year-old from Kesh hopes to make a similar impact on the San Marino game – except this time his performance has to include goals.
“It’s very nice to hear people say I played well but it means nothing to me now,” said Lafferty.
“We lost the game and that’s all it will be remembered for.
“I was pleased with my performance and can take positives from it but that’s all. No point dwelling on defeat.
“We’re expected to beat San Marino and beat them well, so that’s exactly what we’ll strive to do. I want to score goals but the important thing is that the team wins.”
Northern Ireland were back training today for Wednesday night’s clash.