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Matty Lund given Northern Ireland call-up as Jamie Ward loses fitness bid

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland will be without goalscoring hero Jamie Ward for Friday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania.

The Derby County forward, who netted the vital opening goal in Northern Ireland’s 2-0 victory in Greece last month, has withdrawn from the squad along with Liverpool’s Ryan McLaughlin.

The Anfield youngster has a groin injury while Ward, who has started all three games in the campaign so far, is out with a thigh problem.

Into the squad come Oldham midfielder Carl Winchester, who has won one cap, and Rochdale’s Matty Lund, receiving his first call-up to the senior squad.

Brentford’s Stuart Dallas, on the standby list, would also have been going to Bucharest but for what was described in an Irish FA statement as ‘fitness problems’.

Manager Michael O’Neill will be disappointed to lose Ward, but his absence from the clash with Romania was always on the cards after he suffered the injury in October when his club suggested he would be unavailable for up to six weeks.

With Ward not fit for selection, and Shane Ferguson, who played left-back in Greece, also injured there will be at least two changes to the line-up that started in Athens.

Chris Brunt is an obvious choice to take over from Ferguson as the West Brom captain played at left-back in the opening qualifier against Hungary, but a replacement for Ward may be harder to find.

He has played as part of a midfield five in the two away wins to date, always quick to support lone striker Kyle Lafferty and as he showed in the last international, offering a goal threat.

Niall McGinn, Billy McKay and Ben Reeves would all love a chance to show what they can do in a similar role from kick-off.

O’Neill has a big decision to make on that front and also in relation to captain Steven Davis and Aaron Hughes, who both joined up with the squad earlier this week struggling with injuries.

While the boss considers his options, Winchester and Lund will be thanking their lucky stars.

Oldham’s 21-year-old Winchester played for Northern Ireland against Wales in 2011 but has not featured since so this is an opportunity for him to show his qualities in training.

Oldham boss Lee Johnson said: “I’m delighted for him and the club because to have a player come through the youth system is excellent. Supporters can see the path he has come from to become a full international and it is fantastic for Carl and the club.”

Rochdale were also delighted with the news that 23-year-old Lund was given the nod by O’Neill.

The much travelled midfielder has played at under-21 level for Northern Ireland on six occasions and recently signed an extension to his contract at Rochdale.

He began his career at Crewe before joining Stoke in 2009 and then going on loan spells to Hereford, Oldham, Bristol Rovers and Southend. Lund moved to Rochdale last summer and has become a popular figure with team-mates and fans at the club.

Meanwhile, Hull City defender Alex Bruce says he has not given up on his international career, even though appearances under O’Neill have been few and far between.

“I feel I’ve got something to offer. You always want to play at the highest level possible and international football is that for me,” said Bruce, out of action with a hamstring injury at present.

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