Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill is right to sing up for Canary Kyle Lafferty

By Steven Beacom

Kyle Lafferty is Windsor Park's new favourite son. He hasn't yet reached the level of hero worship afforded to King David Healy, but his goals in the Euro 2016 qualifiers have elevated him to prince-like status amongst the Northern Ireland supporters.

Pity he is still seen as a pauper at Carrow Road, living off scraps with Norwich City.

Canaries boss Alex Neil believes Lafferty is good enough to jump off the bench and score a vital goal in the League Cup, but when it comes to the Premier League the striker doesn't get a look in. And this despite being in the form of his life.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is as bemused by Lafferty's delicate situation at Norwich as the Windsor faithful. He didn't hold back when I brought up the subject at yesterday's press conference to announce his squad for next month's Euro 2016 double header against Greece and Finland.

Lafferty's name was on the 26 man list, but suspension rules him out of next Thursday's Windsor clash with the Greeks, which if won by the home side will take Northern Ireland to next year's finals.

How O'Neill would love to have the 28-year-old up front for that one. Lafferty has scored seven times in the campaign to date and has been the most instrumental figure in Group F.

I would argue that, given how far Northern Ireland have come, Lafferty has been the most inspirational player across the board in the Euro 2016 qualifying series. Yes, even better than Poland's Robert Lewandowski (10 goals) and Germany's Thomas Muller (8), the only players to have netted more in qualifying so far.

For all his efforts in a Northern Ireland shirt over the past year, Lafferty is still questioning if his face fits at Norwich.

Manager Neil was hardly in the door when he was sending the Kesh native out of it last season on loan to Turkish side Caykur Rizespor. This season after recovering from injury, Lafferty has only played once as a second-half substitute in the League Cup. His goal and fine display in a 3-0 win over West Brom wasn't enough, though, to earn him a spot on the bench a few days later in the Premier League against West Ham.

O'Neill's view: "He came off the bench in the League Cup when the game was in the balance and scored a good goal. I thought that was maybe a new dawn for him there, but I was disappointed to see he wasn't involved in the 18 on Saturday.

"It's something that he's going to have to address with the manager and it's not going to be easy for him because he just wants to stay there and get the opportunity to play. Kyle has not had the opportunity to prove himself at Norwich, a;because he spent six months in Turkey and b; because they've not played him in his proper position. I wish he was in my squad every week."

O'Neill is right to sing up for his Canary. And Lafferty, who has done enough to merit a place in Norwich's Premier League squad, will be heartened to hear his international manager's backing...and all the more determined to deliver for him when he returns from suspension.

Belfast Telegraph