Kyle Lafferty convinced he’s in reffing hell even after all these years
Kyle Lafferty believes he is still being treated unfairly by referees for an error of judgement he made over three years ago.
Lafferty will lead the attack for Northern Ireland against Portugal tonight knowing that he is walking a tightrope with a yellow card in Porto set to rule him out of next month's World Cup qualifier at home to Azerbaijan.
Lafferty, now playing his football with Sion in Switzerland, was mysteriously booked in the last match with Luxembourg leaving the former Rangers striker to question if he is a marked man where officialdom is concerned.
It was back in May 2009 that Lafferty, then with the Ibrox outfit, held his face and threw himself to the ground as if pole-axed by Aberdeen's Charlie Mulgrew who was red carded.
Television replays showed the Fermanagh man wasn't touched.
In the aftermath a red faced Lafferty apologised and was fined by Rangers, but clearly the 25-year-old from Kesh feels his embarrassing theatrics continue to haunt him.
“I still don’t know why I was booked against Luxembourg.
“The referee told me at half-time that he watched the Russia game a few days before and ‘knew what I was at’.
“In my opinion he had as poor a game as I did,” said Lafferty.
“A lot of referees probably judge me on my past.
“Getting Charlie Mulgrew sent off when I was at Rangers, when I took a dive, is something I still live with in football.
“I apologised straight away to him and admitted what I had done but it still follows me, even a few years later. I conned one of their own and I’m sure some referees remember that.
“I don’t know if they don’t like me but I can’t change my game.
“What I can do is hold my nerve better and not lose my temper, even when I get clattered from behind in games,” he added.
That last statement is an illustration of how Lafferty has grown up recently.
His assessment of his performance against Luxembourg was also open and honest.
He was the main culprit as Northern Ireland were caught offside an astonishing 13 times in the 1-1 draw.
Lafferty said: “I have been a striker for long enough to be able to play without being offside so much.
“Against Luxembourg, regardless of the off-sides, I didn’t do most things right and I was really disappointed.
“When I don’t do the things I should be doing, I do beat myself up,” he said.
Manager Michael O'Neill will hope it is the Portuguese players who feel battered tonight because when he's on his game Lafferty is a handful.
The Northern Ireland squad arrived in Porto yesterday after being at a training camp in the Portuguese resort of Praia De Quiaios since last Wednesday.
Lafferty declared that it was a useful exercise, though whether it makes a difference as O'Neill searches for his first victory as an international boss remains to be seen.
The Sion forward said: “We have had some really tough games since Michael took over and we might have let him down once or twice but hopefully we can put in a big performance this time and get something out of the game.”
Northern Ireland face a massive challenge against a gifted Portuguese side.
And the fact that so many players are unavailable to O’Neill, makes the task so much more difficult.
Grant McCann (knee injury) and Alex Bruce (groin problem) are the latest to withdraw from the squad.
Both players have returned to their clubs with no further call-ups at this stage.
Already on the missing list are Chris Brunt, Shane Ferguson, James McPake, Martin Paterson and Jamie Ward — all through injury — and the suspended Gareth McAuley.
Given that Brunt, Ferguson and McAuley are all Premier League regulars, their unavailability is sure to be a particularly severe blow given the undoubted class of Northern Ireland’s opposition.