Belfast Telegraph

Conor McLaughlin gutted to miss crunch Euro qualifier against Greece

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland defender Conor McLaughlin has admitted that he is devastated to be missing out on the match which could take the country to the European Championship finals for the first time.

McLaughlin was booked in the second-half of Monday night's 1-1 draw with Hungary at Windsor Park and with it being his third yellow card of the qualifying campaign, he will be suspended when Greece play in Belfast next month.

It is tough to take for the right-back, who believes the challenge that led to the caution wouldn't even have warranted a free-kick in League One, where he plays for Fleetwood.

And it is not ideal for manager Michael O'Neill, who has relied heavily on McLaughlin's steady defensive qualities and his ability to raid the flank offering an extra attacking option.

McLaughlin has excelled, starting in all eight group games so far since being handed a surprise chance a year ago when Northern Ireland won 2-1 in Hungary, a victory that gave O'Neill's side the confidence to go on and make such a positive impact in qualifying.

On October 8, however, when Greece play at Windsor he will have to watch from the sidelines.

On the upside, should Northern Ireland win, the Belfast man can look forward to playing in the Euro 2016 finals.

If they don't make it to France then, there will be another opportunity in Finland on October 11, when McLaughlin will be available after his one-match ban.

Also missing the Greece game through suspension are Chris Baird, who was sent off against the Hungarians, and Kyle Lafferty, scorer of the dramatic injury-time equaliser on Monday that kept Northern Ireland one point clear of Romania at the top of Group F and crucially four points ahead of third-placed Hungary, with the first two sure to qualify for France.

On the booking that cost him a chance to play versus Greece, 24-year-old McLaughlin said: "I was so disappointed. In the league I play in it probably wouldn't even be a foul, never mind a yellow card but I have to realise what I can or can't get away with at international level.

"I'm gutted to be missing the Greece match having started every game so far but I have to get used to different types of football.

"We have to deal with the suspensions. It is the first time we have had this problem during the campaign because our discipline has been so good.

"It's disappointing and unfortunate we now have three players out for the same game but it will give others a chance.

"I have no doubt the lads can beat Greece and get us to France but if not, I'm sure we will do it in the final game."

With the team trailing 1-0 and down to 10 men, McLaughlin was fearing the worst until Lafferty scored his seventh goal of the campaign to rescue a precious point.

Chris Baird's dismissal against Hungary was right call rules chief

The news that Romania drew 0-0 with Greece at the same time, keeping Northern Ireland ahead of the pack, made it a great night all round.

"You can never say never but with the refereeing decisions going against us and the sending off, it wasn't looking good," stated McLaughlin.

"Then Kyle being Kyle, he popped up in injury-time. It was unbelievable. He just has the golden touch at the moment, everything he hits seems to go in.

"That point is unbelievably big for us and I think we will see that after the next two games, and with Romania drawing, too, it was massive."

Belfast Telegraph