O’Neill: Lafferty will be in demand


Published: Monday 30th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill expects match-winner Kyle Lafferty to be a wanted man this summer after his first-half double downed Finland at Windsor Park.

Lafferty scored twice in five first-half minutes to see his side to a 2-1 victory in Belfast, the first a brilliantly executed volley, the second a neat cushioned header.

That took his tally in Euro 2016 qualifying to five in as many games, and it is his goals that are driving Northern Ireland towards a first major championship in 30 years.

But he has struggled to have the same impact in domestic football.

A summer move to Norwich failed to deliver regular game time up front and in January he moved to Turkish side Rizespor on loan – the 27-year-old’s fourth team in three years.

And O’Neill thinks he might be on the move again after turning heads with another man-of-the-match display.

“Kyle was outstanding again with two fantastic goals. He’s going on the pitch for Northern Ireland at the minute believing he’s capable of scoring every time he plays,” said O’Neill.

“Anyone who watched this game, with Kyle in that kind of mood, on that kind of form, has to think if he’s not at your club how can you get him at your club.

“There’ll be a lot of managers who will look at that performance and be very keen to explore the opportunity of bringing Kyle to their club if his future is not at Norwich.”

Lafferty’s latest brace puts him second on his country’s all-time list with 14, behind only David Healy.

Healy was another whose international record far outstripped a stop-start career in the leagues, going on to score 36 times for Northern Ireland despite a moderate record elsewhere.

O’Neill is well aware of those parallels but would be delighted to have his very own Healy after searching long and hard for a regular scorer.

He said: “It’s difficult for Kyle because he’s a bit in the David Healy situation where things at club level maybe aren’t going as well as he’d like, but when he’s pulled on the green shirt in this campaign he’s been outstanding.

“He’s showed what he’s capable of on this kind of stage. I’m delighted for Kyle because I think there’s so much potential in him as a player and it’s nice to see him start to fulfil that.

“I can’t comment on why club managers in recent times haven’t stuck with him but he is showing what he’s capable of against top-class European defenders.”

As well as taking his side to the lofty heights of 12 points from a possible 15, there was a personal aspect to the result for O’Neill.

It came at the expense of opposite number Mixu Paatelainen, who gave O’Neill his coaching break as his number two at Cowdenbeath.

It was the Finn who came off second best on this occasion and he wished his friend well on the road for the rest of the campaign.

“I hope Northern Ireland qualify now, certainly for Michael’s sake,” he said.

“I think they will. They are a very powerful team with seasoned professionals in their side.

“They have a good style – quite direct, but it plays to their strengths.

“I must also praise Lafferty. He’s a powerful striker, he’s tall, he made a fantastic finish with the volley and he’s always a willing runner.”

Published: Monday 30th March 2015 by The News Editor

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