Belfast Telegraph

Kyle Lafferty is a new man and he can finish the job: Iain Dowie

By Steven Beacom

Iain Dowie knows what it takes to lead the line for Northern Ireland. He has the 59 caps and 12 international goals to prove it.

So, when he gives his verdict on the country's current lone striker, it's worth sitting up and listening to every word.

Dowie is a fan of Kyle Lafferty. Always has been, though he understands why before the Euro 2016 qualifiers kicked off others were questioning the Fermanagh man's place in the team.

The Sky Sports pundit admits that while Lafferty's ability was never in doubt, his mindset was perhaps not always right.

Now though, Dowie is delighted that the Norwich ace, on loan to Turkish outfit Caykur Rizespor, is delivering the full package.

Lafferty has scored three goals in four games to date, inspiring Northern Ireland to second place in Group F and ex-Southampton and West Ham star Dowie feels there will be more to come in the campaign, hopefully starting on Sunday at Windsor Park against Finland.

"I've believed for several years that Kyle Lafferty has the ability to be a top class striker and now he is showing it for Northern Ireland," said Dowie, a big Windsor Park favourite in his day.

"Kyle has pace, he is good in the air, he has a nice touch and he has the ability to score goals.

"He's producing big performances, looks motivated and in a better place mentally with his football than he has been in the past and that is good news for Northern Ireland because he's crucial to the side.

"I genuinely believe he is fundamental to the success of this Northern Ireland team and his goals will be key to us qualifying for the Euro finals.

"When we have given other countries a hard time over the years, we have always had that focal point with David Healy being the prime example and Kyle has given us that in this campaign."

Like Dowie, Lafferty has 12 international goals. Another one on Sunday and he will equal the old Northern Ireland scoring record which was well and truly eclipsed by the legendary Healy.

While stating that the former Rangers and Burnley forward is a key component of Michael O'Neill's side, Dowie, the target man in Bryan Hamilton's team which almost qualified for the Euro 96 finals, acknowledges other important players too.

"There's good organisation in the side and a nice mix of youth and experience," said the ex-Crystal Palace boss.

"I like Jamie Ward a lot. He's given us something different and has an edge about him which we've needed, Steven Davis is obviously a big player for us and we have just got Jonny Evans back. That will be important going forward.

"Gareth McAuley is another excellent player and leads by example and is strong at both ends of the pitch. Players like him, Evans, Davis and Lafferty can grab the group games coming up this year by the throat and bring the younger lads with them."

Dowie is confident that Northern Ireland can beat Finland on Sunday, though that does not stop him warning that the visitors are dangerous opponents.

The former international also wants to see a much better showing than was on offer during Wednesday's friendly defeat in Scotland.

"It is important that we play with a lot more ambition against Finland," he said.

"I was surprised at the display against Scotland actually.

" The goalkeeper, Michael McGovern, did well, but we didn't pass the ball forward like we can and never got going. I'm expecting a lot more from us on Sunday.

"This is a game we need to win and should be looking to win. Finland are a capable side and have some decent players and the sum of their parts should be better than how they performed in the group so far, but the current Northern Ireland team is a good one and we must take care of matches like this.

"The fans will play a part too. I remember being in the ground when we beat England and the atmosphere was electric.

"We need that sort of noise again against Finland because the opposition will find it tough and the Northern Ireland players will be inspired."

Dowie (50) was shortlisted for the Northern Ireland manager's job after Nigel Worthington's departure, but lost out to O'Neill, who he says after a tough World Cup campaign has done well to regroup for the Euro qualifiers.

Forever a big supporter of the national team he gave his all for as a player, Northern Ireland's other big Iain firmly believes he'll see them at the Euro 2016 finals.

Iain Dowie will be a pundit on Sky Sports 5 for the Northern Ireland v Finland match on Sunday. The show starts at 4.30pm

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