Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill keeping very close eye on options for blockbuster clash

Up close: Northern Ireland’s Kyle Lafferty closes down Luxembourg’s Vincent Thill on Thursday at Windsor Park
Up close: Northern Ireland’s Kyle Lafferty closes down Luxembourg’s Vincent Thill on Thursday at Windsor Park
Michael O'Neill

By Ian Parker

Michael O'Neill must assess a number of players in his Northern Ireland squad as attention turns fully to Monday's Euro 2020 qualifier against Germany.

Thursday's 1-0 friendly win over Luxembourg was achieved with an experimental line-up which combined a number of players in need of minutes on the pitch and youngsters from the under-21 squad getting a chance at senior level.

Ciaron Brown, Alfie McCalmont and Ethan Galbraith all made their debuts in the match, while there were second caps for Tom Flanagan, Liam Donnelly and Shayne Lavery.

While O'Neill was happy to blood some youngsters, many of the decisions were effectively enforced with the Germany game taking precedence in the manager's thinking every step of the way.

With Callum Morris sidelined, O'Neill admitted he left defenders Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart out of his matchday squad entirely to avoid the "temptation" of turning to either man should Brown have run out of steam, with the 21-year-old having started only one game for Cardiff this season.

Conor Washington and Liam Boyce were also left out as they nurse minor problems.

"Conor just had a wee bit of a back issue so we had to monitor him this week and wrap him up in cotton wool," O'Neill said.

"He'll train tomorrow. He's in a good place to start. It was important. If you look at our striking options, Kyle (Lafferty) and Josh (Magennis) have only just sorted out their club situations, and Liam Boyce is dealing with a hamstring injury, so we weren't prepared to risk Conor."

Magennis started the match in the centre of a front three, with Lafferty playing on the left barely 24 hours after landing in Belfast as a late call-up to the squad.

The 31-year-old only signed for Norwegian club Sarpsborg last week, and was sent off on his debut at the weekend, the first club match he has started since playing Cowdenbeath with Rangers in January.

"He didn't train with the squad," O'Neill said.

"Again, we had looked at what we were initially going to start with and we wouldn't take a risk with someone at that position.

"Kyle went 60 minutes which will do him good... We've chopped and changed with the under-21 players coming in.

"It's not that we've had a set game plan for Luxembourg. We have a set game plan to play Germany."

Though the youth movement was the main theme of the night, there was a late substitute appearance for 34-year-old Steven Davis.

The Rangers midfielder came on alongside debutant Galbraith to earn his 112th cap, equalling the outfield record of Aaron Hughes, who was honoured at half-time following his retirement in June.

"He's been annoying me all week, him and Jonny, wanting to play," O'Neill said with a laugh.

"Jonny will probably be mad because Davo got five minutes and he didn't.

"But we're in a really good place with a very young squad. They'll be tested in the next four games, there's no doubt about that, but what we will do is go into the Germany game and have a team as fresh as can be."

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