Belfast Telegraph

Washington and Mckay have caught the eye of Northern Ireland boss

By Graham Luney

Michael O'Neill has admitted that Conor Washington's red-hot form for Queens Park Rangers is giving him food for thought ahead of the crucial World Cup qualifier against Norway at Windsor Park on March 26.

The 24-year-old  struggled to get going after the Euro 2016 finals but a four-goal blast in six outings has suggested the former postman is in the mood to deliver again.

Washington's confidence took a knock after netting only three goals in 25 games for the Championship side but now he's got a spring in his step ahead of the crunch Group C showdown.

"Conor has come in and done well, he's been patient and a new manager (Ian Holloway) has probably helped him," said O'Neill. "He looks back to being the player he was when we first got him, his hunger is there, he's strong, fit and powerful and he's getting regular football.

"I watched him against Blackburn and he did well even though they didn't win."

O'Neill will again have concerns over Kyle Lafferty's fitness levels given his lack of game time at Norwich while Josh Magennis has impressed at Charlton. Jamie Ward, Liam Boyce and Will Grigg are other attacking options while Billy Mckay's displays for Inverness have also caught O'Neill's eye.

"Billy is a player I have always liked, kept an eye on and he's back at a club he's comfortable with," said O'Neill. "He's had a difficult situation in moving and going on loan twice, I think he's going to be very important for Inverness in terms of staying in the Premiership.

"He's playing at a level of football which is good enough for us to consider him for international level, he's scored a few goals and we are closely monitoring him."

O'Neill has more concerns in the goalkeeping area with Michael McGovern and Alan Mannus not featuring regularly at Norwich and St Johnstone respectively.

"With Michael and Alan the goalkeepers not playing it's not ideal," added O'Neill. "Corry (Evans) has a groin injury and is a bit of a doubt but there will be no big surprises in the squad."

In second spot behind Germany in Group C, O'Neill's side are on course to seal a play-off spot but Azerbaijan, Czech Republic and Norway hope to shatter those plans. Northern Ireland legend Pat Jennings, however, knows the hard work is still to be done if a place in Russia is to be secured.

"You are only as good as your last game, but hopefully we can keep going the way we are heading," said the former Spurs and Arsenal keeper who won 119 caps.

"Norway will be tough but we have confidence. Michael is doing a wonderful job. He knows exactly what he has at his disposal, and players always step up to the plate.

"Hopefully we can beat Norway and go from there."

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