Belfast Telegraph

Lafferty is ace in Northern Ireland’s pack

By Steven Beacom

Kyle Lafferty has become irreplaceable for Northern Ireland. So says Steve Lomas, who knows a thing or two about what is required at international level.

Former Manchester City and West Ham favourite Lomas won 45 caps for his country.

Unfortunately for the 37-year-old none of those appearances were in the finals of a major championships.

He hopes the current batch of Northern Ireland stars don’t suffer the same fate and believes with Rangers hitman Lafferty leading the line, they have a genuine chance of making it to Poland and Ukraine next summer.

Lafferty missed the last qualifier due to injury, but his growing presence on the international stage wasn’t required as Aaron Hughes, Steve Davis and the majestic Paddy McCourt (2) scored the goals in a 4-0 romp against the Faroe Islands last month.

Serbia will be a much different proposition when they are at Windsor Park on Friday in the first encounter of a vital double header for Northern Ireland, who are away to Estonia next Tuesday.

Nigel Worthington’s side can feel confident of victory over an average Estonia outfit, but the result against the highly capable Serbs is touch and go.

Lomas suggests that 23-year-old Lafferty, who has already scored eight goals at international level, can make the difference.

“Having Kyle Lafferty back for these games is a big boost for Northern Ireland,” said Lomas.

“For me Kyle is a key figure for us in our bid to finish in the top two in the group and give us a chance of qualifying for the Euro 2012 finals.

“When he is unavailable there is no-one to replace him.

“In my opinion he could go on and play in the Premier League and be a success — I rate him that highly.

“He has shown in spells for Northern Ireland that at his best he’s unplayable. There’s no doubt he has the ability to really trouble Serbia.”

Lomas adds that he was greatly encouraged by the performance of Lafferty’s Ibrox team-mate David Healy in the 4-0 win over the Faroes.

“It was the sharpest I’ve seen him for quite some time,” said Lomas.

“You could see how much he wanted to score and he was unlucky not to do so.

“I believe that if you have Lafferty and Healy fully fit and firing we would have a real chance of qualifying.”

Northern Ireland enter the Serbia and Estonia matches lying in third spot in Group C, which is led by Italy.

Worthington’s men, who met up yesterday, are two points behind second-placed Slovenia, but crucially have a game in hand.

Lomas, hoping to get a break into management, will be keen to see Worthington’s selection against the Serbs. He wants Celtic’s McCourt unleashed again.

“It was great to see Paddy McCourt do so well in the Faroes match,” said the native of Coleraine.

“I’ve been a big supporter of him for a few years. He has so much talent, I would start him all the time because he gives the team something different.

“Having Paddy down one flank and then maybe Niall McGinn, with his pace, down the other gives Northern Ireland real attacking intent, especially when you add in Steve Davis going forward from midfield. He is a fantastic player.”

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Steve Lomas and a host of other former football heroes such as John Aldridge, Jason McAteer, Clayton Blackmore and Lee Martin will play in the Belfast City Cup, supported by Belfast City Council, on October 9. Shankill United will host the event at The Hammer in aid of local charity, Heartbeat NI.

For further information on the Belfast Cup 2011 please visit www.legendsxi.com

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