Belfast Telegraph

Kyle Lafferty beaming after two-goal blast boosts Northern Ireland finals bid

By Steven Beacom

Kyle Lafferty was beaming after his sensational scoring performance in last night's 2-1 victory over Finland moved Northern Ireland a giant step closer to the Euro 2016 finals.

The 27-year-old from Fermanagh netted two outstanding goals on a landmark occasion, with Northern Ireland playing their first international at Windsor Park on a Sunday.

Lafferty labelled every member of Michael O'Neill's squad 'heroes', adding that they would be desperately disappointed if they didn't make it to next year's finals in France now.

Given Lafferty's form and that of his team-mates in competitive fixtures, plus the way Group F is shaping up, surely Northern Ireland will reach a major tournament for the first time since the 1986 World Cup.

Romania remain top of the group on 13 points at the halfway stage with O'Neill's men on 12, four points clear in second after third placed Hungary could only manage a scoreless draw at home to Greece.

That result in Budapest was a cause for even more celebration after man of the match Lafferty's brilliant brace in Northern Ireland's 600th international.

"All the boys were heroes. There could have been five or six players who deserved to be man of the match," said Lafferty.

"We can't get ahead of ourselves but if we keep playing like we are now, it would be a disappointment if we didn't get there."

Lafferty has now scored five times in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and 14 goals for his country overall. It means that only the legendary David Healy is ahead of him in the goalscoring charts.

Healy was on target on 36 occasions for Northern Ireland.

Lafferty is not interested in personal glory and chasing down that record though. All that matters to him is making it to France, which Northern Ireland will do if they remain in the top two places in the table.

“I think David is too far ahead of me. I won’t set any targets. If I don’t score another goal in the campaign and we qualify I’ll be happy enough,” said Lafferty, who can’t wait to return to Windsor in June for another crucial clash with Romania, who are the only nation to have defeated Northern Ireland so far in this campaign.

“The next game is going to be massive for us against Romania. It is a top of the table clash. We missed Steven Davis and Jamie Ward when we lost out there and hopefully they will play in that game.”

While Michael O’Neill was full of praise for his striker after the game, Lafferty returned the compliment.

“In the last campaign I let everyone down. Michael had a word with me and it really hit home.  He is the best manager I’ve played under and he gets the best from me and he inspires me ahead of games.”

O’Neill believes Lafferty’s displays at international level will have club sides lining up for the Norwich ace, who is on loan ith Turkish team Caykur Rizespor.

Lafferty said: “It’s nice Michael saying that but I’m a Norwich player and hopefully after my loan spell I’ll go back there and get in the team. Hopefully by then they will be in the Premier League.”

Belfast Telegraph