Northern Ireland's two-goal hero Kyle Lafferty going through 'toughest time'
Unwanted Norwich striker Kyle Lafferty admits he is experiencing the hardest spell of his career as he tries to remain Northern Ireland's talisman.
The 29-year-old was relegated to the bench for his country's 4-0 win over San Marino because of a lack of playing time with the Canaries, for whom he has featured in just one EFL Cup game this term.
While Alex Neil has seen little worth in his striker since taking the job in 2015, Northern Irish boss Michael O'Neill has been able to draw out the best of Lafferty and his brace from the bench on Saturday took his tally to nine in his nation's previous 11 qualifiers.
That is a return that only Robert Lewandowski, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gareth Bale and Thomas Muller can better in the same time frame on the continent, and Lafferty is continuing to fire despite being left out in the cold over in Norfolk.
"It probably is the toughest time of my career," Lafferty admitted.
"I want to play as many games for Northern Ireland as I can. With not starting, I'm always going to be disappointed. I have to respect my team-mates and the decision of the manager.
"If he says I'm not fit enough, if he sees I'm going to be better for the team playing 30 minutes and not starting, I have to respect that."
Northern Ireland fans are perplexed by Lafferty's omissions, not only from Norwich's line-up but also, at times, their 18-man squad given they see a lethal marksman when he is in a green shirt.
The forward attributes his form for his country to O'Neill's belief in him.
"I have a manager who has a lot of faith in me," he added.
"He has made me the focal point of the team and put a lot of trust in me. When you are a player and have someone like that behind you it gives you a confidence boost and someone to go out and please. It's always good.
"I know my international record compared to club football is completely different and that's probably down to in club football I don't really have a manager who has a lot of faith in me like Michael has in me and I'm repaying Michael by getting goals and getting three points."
Josh Magennis was preferred to both QPR's Conor Washington and Lafferty for the start against San Marino, though the latter's impact may have earned him the nod against world champions Germany in Hanover on Tuesday.
And Lafferty was mature enough to accept that his club situation, one he tried, and failed, to get out of via a loan on deadline day, has harmed his international credentials.
"I respect Michael and every decision he makes, whether it disappoints me or not, because we have a good relationship but it has probably played in my favour coming off the bench and scoring two and getting an assist," he said.
"As I've said before it's not all about me. There are players playing club football and if I was in their shoes I'd be asking questions why I wasn't starting."