Belfast Telegraph

Kyle Lafferty and Mark Sykes added to Northern Ireland squad ahead of Luxembourg and Germany games

Kyle Lafferty has been added to the Northern Ireland squad (Steven Paston/PA)
Kyle Lafferty has been added to the Northern Ireland squad (Steven Paston/PA)
Mark Sykes
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Kyle Lafferty and Mark Sykes have been called up to the Northern Ireland panel for the upcoming games against Luxembourg and Germany.

Lafferty was sent off during his debut for Norwegian side Sarpsborg 08 on Sunday but has been added to the panel with an injury cloud hanging over fellow forward Liam Boyce.

Oxford United midfielder Sykes had also initially been left out of Michael O'Neill's squad but, after defender Michael Smith and, more pertinently, winger Jordan Jones were forced to withdraw due to injury, has been added.

The duo are the second and third late additions to the Northern Ireland squad, following Linfield forward Shayne Lavery, who replaced Paul Smyth.

Lafferty will fly in to join up with the squad tonight (Wednesday), with Boyce struggling after picking up a hamstring injury in action for Burton on Saturday.

Lafferty endured a nightmare start to his short stint in Norway when he was booked for a foul just 15 seconds into his debut against Viking and was then dismissed with 20 minutes left on the clock.

To make matters worse, his struggling Sarpsborg 08 side had looked to be cruising to a much-needed three points, 2-0 up at home to Viking when the red card was issued, before leaking two late goals to draw 2-2.

Sykes, who is still awaiting his senior international debut, played for Oxford United in Tuesday evening's EFL Trophy victory over Norwich U21s before flying to Belfast to join his international team-mates.

“I am always very proud to represent my country and I’m looking forward to it," he told the Oxford United website.

Sykes has been made available for a loan move by Oxford as he has got only two starts so far this term, both in the EFL Trophy.

Sykes moved to Oxford from Glenavon in January and made an immediate impact, starting seven League One matches in the second half of the 18/19 season.

However, the summer signings of George Thorne on loan from Derby County and Ben Woodburn on loan from Liverpool have pushed the 22-year-old down the pecking order.

Boss Karl Robinson's hope is that Sykes can drop to League Two for half the season to breathe new life into his full-time career.

“Sykesy needs to go and play some minutes," Robinson told the Oxford Mail.

“I think while we have all these players at the moment there’s no point having an investment being a substitute. We feel playing in League Two hopefully will allow us to grow that and hopefully bring him back in January to fight for his place."

Northern Ireland face Luxembourg in a friendly at Windsor Park on Thursday before Germany visit for a tasty Group C clash on Monday.

Sykes joins six players in the squad to have played Irish League football. Shayne Lavery, of course, is currently at Linfield while Niall McGinn, Stuart Dallas, Gavin Whyte, Liam Donnelly and Liam Boyce have all played in the local league.

Updated Northern Ireland squad (changes in bold)

Goalkeepers: Michael McGovern, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Trevor Carson

Defenders: Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart, Conor McLaughlin, Jamal Lewis, Tom Flanagan, Callum Norris, Michael Smith

Midfielders: Steven Davis, Niall McGinn, Corry Evans, Shane Ferguson, Stuart Dallas, Paddy McNair, George Saville, Mark Sykes, Gavin Whyte, Jordan Thompson, Liam Donnelly, Jordan Jones

Forwards: Josh Magennis, Conor Washington, Liam Boyce, Shayne Lavery, Kyle Lafferty, Paul Smyth

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