Belfast Telegraph

Momentum is key for Michael O'Neill against Latvians in Northern Ireland friendly

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill wants a minimum of four friendlies before the Euro 2016 finals begin... and first up in the team's preparation for France will be to take on Latvia next month.

The opposition has underwhelmed some fans, but the IFA want to use the fixture as a celebration of Northern Ireland qualifying for the Euro finals and are hoping for a sell-out crowd.

O'Neill believes the Latvians, who finished bottom of their Euro group, which featured Czech Republic, Netherlands, Iceland, Turkey and Kazakhstan, will provide a useful test for his players.

In the qualifiers, Latvia, managed by ex-Southampton striker Marians Pahars, drew twice with the Turks, the Czech Republic and Iceland, all of whom will be at the finals.

In the past, O'Neill, who has never won an international friendly, has stated that results of matches with no points at stake mean little to him. Ahead of next year's tournament, however, he is keen to keep the momentum built up over the past year going.

O'Neill said: "Latvia will provide us with a good test. They had some impressive results in what was a difficult group. Picking up points against Czech Republic, Iceland and Turkey away from home is no mean feat. This game is also a chance for us to start building momentum as we prepare for our first ever appearance at the European Championship finals."

IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson added: "We are hoping this will be a big celebration, allowing fans to say well done to Michael and the team on their success in the campaign."

Tickets for the game will go on public sale next week but campaign card holders will receive notification of a 48-hour priority window in which to purchase tickets.

Capital gains can propel Lafferty into Neil's plans

Kyle Lafferty is poised for a rare Norwich City run out tonight when the Canaries meet Everton at Goodison Park in the Capital One Cup.

Northern Ireland supporters have been mystified by Lafferty's treatment at Carrow Road this season and now Norwich fans are starting to ask questions too.

Lafferty didn't even make the bench on Saturday as Norwich were beaten 1-0 at home by West Brom in the Premier League, meaning the Fermanagh man lost out on the opportunity to battle with countrymen Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt.

In Norwich's last Capital One Cup game, substitute Lafferty scored once and created another goal in his team's 3-0 victory over WBA.

Norwich boss Alex Neil is expected to rest some of his regular starters tonight with Lafferty itching for the chance to impress in the hope that if he shines, he could be in the frame for the squad for Saturday's league game at Manchester City.

Belfast Telegraph