Steven Davis backing Kyle Lafferty to be consistent threat
Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis is confident returning striker Kyle Lafferty can be a 'big player' in the 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign.
Lafferty will play for his country in Cyprus tonight for the first time since his needless sending off against Portugal in September last year, and does so having said in this newspaper yesterday that he would not let manager Michael O'Neill down again.
Southampton midfielder Davis played with Lafferty at Rangers. He knows the Fermanagh man better than most and wants his pal to produce his recent club form for Italian Serie B outfit Palermo on the international stage.
"With Kyle there can never be any question marks about his willingness to do well for Northern Ireland. He's desperate to play and maybe over eager if anything," said Davis.
"Going forward he can be a really big player for us. He needs consistency in his game and hopefully he's finding that in Palermo.
"He seems to be enjoying himself over there, he's got confidence back in his game and we hope he can translate that to the international scene."
O'Neill concurs with those sentiments.
"There's a lot of talk about Kyle and I think at times he'd probably prefer if there was a bit less talk. He just wants to get on with it and play," said the manager.
"I don't think it's a case of Kyle having to put things right, but with the suspension for the red card and the birth of his child keeping him out of the Turkey match, we've had a six month period without seeing him.
"He is at an interesting place in his career. His club, Palermo, is doing well, he's doing well for them and there is the option of playing in Serie A, which must be very exciting.
"It's about him finding that consistency on the international stage as well because a focused, fit Kyle Lafferty is a big positive for us. He gives our play a different dimension and if we are going to be successful, Kyle has a big role to play.
"It's fair to say we didn't get as much as we'd like out of him in the last campaign.
"He certainly does give us something when he's focused but there is competition up front now –there's Martin Paterson, Jamie Ward and Billy McKay. That's a positive because we haven't always had those striking options."