Worthington braced for bad news
Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington is preparing himself for the worst as Kyle Lafferty and Paddy McCourt struggle for fitness ahead of Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier against Serbia.
Both men would be certain starters for the Group C clash at Windsor Park if fit, with Rangers striker Lafferty his country's first-choice centre forward and Celtic's McCourt coming fresh off a two-goal, man-of-the-match showing against the Faroe Islands last time out.
Both men are struggling with calf injuries and, with the result essential in the battle for second place in the group, Worthington is crossing his fingers for good news from the treatment room.
He is, though, far from expectant.
"Time is starting to catch up with them a little bit but we'll carry on working with them on a continuous basis and see where we're at," he said. "The injury situation with them is becoming a little bit difficult but we'll have to see.
"It's an unfortunate situation that the two boys have picked up these knocks and time is getting tight. At this moment in time it's all ifs, buts and maybes."
The return from suspension of Chris Brunt would go some way to softening the blow if McCourt was ruled out, though fans had been looking forward to seeing their country's two most creative forces starting a competitive fixture together for the first time.
Lafferty, on the other hand, has no readymade replacement.
Northern Ireland's record scorer David Healy is the most obvious stand-in, and was handed the role against the Faroes, but has not scored an international goal since October 2008 and is not a first-team regular with Rangers.
Warren Feeney and Josh McQuoid are the other options available to Worthington after Jamie Ward pulled out of the original 23-man squad with a hamsting strain.