Belfast Telegraph

Cathcart and Smith locked in NI fitness battle

Craig Cathcart
Craig Cathcart
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Michael O'Neill has two fresh injury concerns as he prepares to announce his Northern Ireland squad tomorrow to face Holland and Germany in the final two Euro 2020 qualifiers later this month.

Defenders Craig Cathcart and Michael Smith were withdrawn during weekend club games, leaving the Northern Ireland boss to sweat over their fitness.

Cathcart was taken off only 20 minutes into Watford's 2-1 Premier League loss to Chelsea on Saturday, while in Scotland, Michael Smith lasted only 53 minutes of Hearts' League Cup semi-final defeat by Rangers.

Cathcart suffered a back spasm, leaving his club boss Quique Sanchez Flores to bemoan the pressure on his players.

"He didn't report anything during the week and even in the warm-up it's okay, nothing," the manager said.

"But players, when they are playing with these kind of pressures - so heavy, so bad - the body can react in a lot of directions that we can't control.

"Probably it's the first time I've seen Cathcart leaving (due to an injury) after five minutes, but now the pressure is there, it's inside of the players and the muscles are reacting differently."

Midfielder Jordan Thompson started Northern Ireland's 3-2 friendly victory over the Czech Republic in Prague last month but was left out of his Blackpool side's win over Peterborough on Saturday.

Blackpool's manager Simon Grayson said that, while the 22-year-old had indeed suffered a knee injury in training, he was left out only as a precaution and should therefore be fit for Northern Ireland's international double-header.

Holland are first up at Windsor Park on Saturday, November 16 followed by Germany in Frankfurt on Tuesday, November 19.

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