Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Latvia: Kyle Lafferty's goalden pride in overtaking legends of game

By Steven Beacom

Kyle Lafferty started the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with nine international goals...and ended it with sweet 16.

It was a stunning performance from the Fermanagh man, who by his own admission had previously failed to live up to his potential in a Northern Ireland shirt.

Talk about making up for it!

The goals flowed from the 88th minute winner in Hungary in the opening match of the campaign to an even later equaliser against the same opposition for Michael O'Neill's men in a 1-1 draw at Windsor Park, setting up the chance to qualify for next year's finals in France with a win at home to Greece last month.

Lafferty was suspended for the victory over the Greeks. It was the only thing he missed in Group F because when chances came his way he took them in scintillating style.

Lafferty's strike in a 2-0 win in Greece was the icing on the cake of a performance that had all the ingredients of a top class striker. With ability like that it remains a mystery why he does not get more opportunities to shine in the Premier League at Norwich.

There were also goals against the Faroes home and away and a double to take down Finland at Windsor, the second of which turned out to be the last Northern Ireland goal at the Kop Stand, before its demolition due to structural problems.

With each goal, Lafferty passed a different legend on Northern Ireland's all-time goalscoring list.

Take a look at this lot: George Best, Norman Whiteside, Billy Bingham, Jimmy McIlroy, Johnny Crossan, Peter McParland, Gerry Armstrong, Iain Dowie, Jimmy Quinn, Joe Bambrick, Billy Gillespie and Colin Clarke.

Over the course of nine qualifiers, the 28-year-old moved ahead of them all.

Only David Healy, who netted on 36 occasions at international level, is in front of him. Mentioning all those names to Lafferty, he takes a sharp intake of breath.

"I feel great pride to be second on the all-time goalscoring list for Northern Ireland," said the Kesh native.

"To have passed so many greats like George Best is fantastic.

"I want to keep scoring for my country. We have a few friendly games coming up in the months ahead and I want to maintain my form in the run up to the finals and make an impact when I'm there.

"I believe I have two or three more campaigns left in me so I will try to score as many goals as I can and keep performing well for Northern Ireland.

"I don't know if I will get anywhere near David Healy. In many ways I think he should have the record because of what he has done for the country on and off the pitch. He was always there scoring goals for Northern Ireland even in tough times."

Lafferty admits it is hard not to think about France, but says for now the focus must be Friday night's friendly in Belfast against Latvia.

"These are exciting times and hopefully Friday will be a sell out and it can be another big night at Windsor," said the former Rangers star.

"There is no pressure on us in the game but we still want to go out and put on a show for the fans. Latvia will be a tricky team to play. It will be a good test for us.

"I'm sure Michael will make a few changes with the team, but regardless of who plays we will look for the win.

"We are now 29th in the Fifa world rankings and it would be good to keep climbing. I don't think we have been higher than 27 so that would be great for Michael and the boys if we could get higher than that."

While he's the star man for Northern Ireland, Lafferty can't get a game at Norwich. One suspects the end game at Carrow Road could come in the January transfer window.

"Euro 2016 may be my only major tournament so I want to be in the best shape of my life and need to be playing to do that," said Lafferty.

"It is difficult at my club at present with not playing, but I will keep training and working away in the hope I get my chance.

"I'm going to have to sit down with the manager (Alex Neil) in January and have a discussion. I know that I will need to play football in the new year and going into the Euros. I'd love to be playing at Norwich but if I have to go out on loan or be sold to play football that might be the way it will be." 

Belfast Telegraph