Kyle Lafferty and Chris Baird given break by O’Neill

Manager Michael O’Neill will allow suspended duo Kyle Lafferty and Chris Baird time away from the squad for the first part of Northern Ireland’s World Cup double header.

Lafferty and Baird will both miss the visit of Russia on Friday but have been named in the 26-man group with a view to featuring against Israel four days later.

And, while they will be in Belfast for the next few days, O’Neill does not intend to include them in full training until the first 
fixture is done and dusted.

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A little free time back home may come in particularly handy for Lafferty, the former Rangers striker who now plies his trade in Switzerland with Sion.

“With both players, there is no real benefit to having them [training] with us now, so we’ll look to bring them in later in the week when the focus turns to the Israel game,” O’Neill said.

One man who will be relishing being back involved with the senior side ahead of the Russia match is midfielder Sammy Clingan. He captained an under-strength side in O’Neill’s second game in charge – a 6-0 demolition in Holland – but has been missing from recent squads after an unsettled season at club level.

He is now back in action with Kilmarnock and turning in some impressive performances. “Sammy has had a difficult six or seven months and the club situation has been a up and down,” admitted O’Neill. “I encouraged him in coming to Scotland, and I’ve seen him three times now. He’s getting better and better.”