Kyle Lafferty could be thrown straight into the action for Northern Ireland against Luxembourg tonight after his late call-up to Michael O’Neill’s squad.
Sarpsborg striker Lafferty and Oxford defender Mark Sykes were added to the squad yesterday after Rangers winger Jordan Jones and Hearts defender Michael Smith dropped out through injury 24 hours earlier.
Lafferty, Northern Ireland’s second-highest scorer, was left out of the original squad for tonight’s match and Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Germany as it was named just hours after he completed his move to Norway.
The former Rangers man made his debut on Sunday, albeit seeing it ended early when he got a second yellow card for simulation 69 minutes in, and will be considered despite not getting the chance to train with his international team-mates.
“Kyle played I think 69 minutes at the weekend for his club so he’s in a little better shape, so we can bring him in and we can give him some more minutes [tonight] and then see where he’s at,” O’Neill said.
“We’ve got an injury doubt over Liam Boyce and Will Grigg is unavailable for personal reasons.”
Lafferty left Rangers in the summer after struggling to make an impact in his second spell with the Ibrox club. Having been left out by O’Neill from the original squad, he was also overlooked when Paul Smyth was forced out through injury, with the 20-year-old Linfield striker Shayne Lavery first to get the call.
“He wasn’t in the original squad because he didn’t have a club,” O’Neill said. “It’s impossible as a player to come and play international football without a club. It’s a risk to them in terms of injury and not having a contract.
“We have to remember where Kyle is. Before the weekend, he last started a club game against Cowdenbeath in January. He played two games for us in March and contributed a lot for the 60 or 65 minutes he had in his legs. He’s not going to be what he’s been in the past but he can still contribute and we’ll see how long that can be when we make our decisions on the team.”
O’Neill plans to use tonight’s game to give playing time to a number of his key players who are struggling to get it at club level at present, but who might be needed for Monday’s big test against the Germans.
Corry Evans, who has started only two Carabao Cup games for Blackburn this season, will captain the side, his first opportunity to lead them out at Windsor Park.
“I’m delighted,” the 29-year-old said. “I captained the team out in Bosnia for my 50th cap but it will be nice to do it at Windsor this time. It’s a great honour to represent your country but to be captain is right up there.”
O’Neill said the captaincy was a fitting reward for Evans’ workrate and attitude for the national team in the course of earning his 53 caps to date.
“Corry’s been a great player for me,” he said. “Sometimes we need someone to do a specific job and generally that’s Corry, and that’s where he’s been fantastic for me.
“Sometimes he’s missed out on games where he’s maybe deserved to play but there’s never an issue, he just gets on with it, and it’s a testament to his career how many caps he has.”
Evans is among the more senior members of the side now given the loss of experience in recent years. But O’Neill is confident there is no loss of leadership in the group, with many of the younger players quick to establish themselves on the pitch and in the dressing room.
“A number of young players have quite quickly become influential,” O’Neill said. We don’t want players to wait until they’ve got 50 caps before they feel they can do that. In particular Jamal [Lewis], Bailey [Peacock-Farrell], Jordan Jones they’ve come in and been lively and had an influence off the pitch as well.”