Belfast Telegraph

Kyle Lafferty in need of a fresh start, says O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has admitted he is concerned for Kyle Lafferty, insisting that come the New Year the striker needs to be playing regular club football for his own peace of mind.

Despite scoring seven goals for Northern Ireland and being an inspirational figure in the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Lafferty has found himself out in the cold at Norwich City under Alex Neil.

The Fermanagh man had hoped to be given a chance to prove himself this season for the Premier League newcomers, but has rarely featured and only as a substitute. More often that not he hasn't even made the bench.

Neil has stated that Lafferty is working hard in training, suggesting, though, that at present he is behind other forwards in the pecking order at Carrow Road.

O'Neill knows he will need Lafferty match fit and in confident form to make a big impact at next year's finals.

That's why he wants to see his number nine playing regular football in the build up to the tournament - be that at Norwich or, more likely, elsewhere.

At yesterday's Northern Ireland squad announcement for the Friday 13th friendly at home to Latvia, when asked about Lafferty's current lack of game time, O'Neill said: "It's a concern, not so much in terms of games, but in terms of how Kyle is. The fact is his opportunities have been very, very limited and it doesn't seem to be changing.

"Having come away with us and scored goals at international level, it's clear when he goes back to his club his goals and performances for Northern Ireland have not affected his situation at Norwich.

"His only option to leave at the moment is to go out on emergency loan which means he has to go to the Championship and then there is obviously financial implications involved in that for his club.

"I think whatever happens between now and January, it is a big thing for Kyle to be settled and playing in January for his peace of mind as much as anything else.

"He needs to be playing at club level and to show what he has shown for us, which has been fantastic. I just don't think he has had the opportunity at Norwich."

Lafferty will play for Northern Ireland against Latvia. Between now and then O'Neill will weigh up how many of his preferred first XI will start alongside those who have been on the fringes of the side. Yesterday, he indicated that out of his senior stars Jonny Evans and Chris Baird would definitely be involved.

Aaron Hughes won't. He will be in Australia with Melbourne City working on recovering from a calf injury while Manchester United will decide if Paddy McNair can join up with the squad after suffering an abdominal problem during last month's 1-1 draw in Finland which ensured Northern Ireland topped Group F.

Youngsters Ryan McLaughlin and Luke McCullough, in O'Neill's squad during the campaign, are absent this time. They will add quality to Jim Magilton's Under-21 side who have important Euro 2017 qualifiers away to France (November 12) and at home to Ukraine (November 17).

O'Neill said: "I think they will get more benefit out of playing two games, especially Ryan who has not played many minutes this season. Both are very much part of the senior squad but it is important for them to play and strengthen Jim's side as much as possible."

On the Latvia game, O'Neill stated: "We have developed a winning mentality and we will aim to keep that going. Also, there are things that we will look at tactically.

"Every time we have a game it is an opportunity for the players to show what they can do and add to their caps which I feel is important and keeps that competitiveness in the squad."

Belfast Telegraph