Michael O’Neill is confident Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 dream will not be derailed by suspensions next month.
A first major tournament in 30 years remains on the cards for O’Neill’s over-performing fifth seeds, after Kyle Lafferty’s injury-time equaliser against Hungary kept them top of Group F.
A home win against Greece at Windsor Park in October would seal the deal regardless of other results, but that would have to be achieved without seven-goal top-scorer Lafferty, right-back Conor McLaughlin and holding midfielder Chris Baird.
Lafferty and McLaughlin both picked up their second bookings of the campaign on Monday night, while Baird was sent off in a curious incident that saw him earn two cautions in the same passage of play – a decision that could yet lead to an appeal.
O’Neill believes he has able deputies, with Kilmarnock’s Josh Magennis lined up to replace former Rangers striker Lafferty.
“You have to be able to deal with suspensions, that’s the nature of international football,” O’Neill said. “We have options. Kyle being out is a blow, of course it is, but someone else will step up. We’ve seen little glimpses of what Josh Magennis can offer up front: he’s a physical presence, he’s powerful and I don’t think people fully appreciate what he gives to this squad.”
Magennis has big boots to fill. Lafferty has been a revelation in qualifying, with only Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and Germany’s Thomas Müller bettering his goals tally – not bad for a player who was surplus to requirements at Norwich last season and has yet to play domestically due to injury this term.
Magennis has played 14 times for his country, but has started just once and has yet to open his account. “I might be the front-runner to replace Kyle but we have Billy Mckay and Will Grigg too,” the Killie striker said.