Michael O’Neill hopes to see Kyle Lafferty close in on David Healy’s record

Michael O’Neill hopes to see Kyle Lafferty close in on David Healy’s record
By PA Sport

08/11/2018 at 17:31Updated 08/11/2018 at 19:11

Lafferty pulled out of the last set of Nations League fixtures with an Achilles injury at short notice.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has challenged Kyle Lafferty to make his mark again as the nation’s “most proven goalscorer” after handing the Rangers striker a recall.

Lafferty pulled out of the last set of Nations League fixtures with an Achilles injury at short notice.

The Irish Football Association then implemented FIFA’s five-day rule to prevent the 31-year-old from returning to club action for Rangers’ next fixture.

Lafferty has apologised for “an error of judgement”, according to the Irish FA, and O’Neill hopes everyone can now move on from the incident as the group prepare for games with Republic of Ireland and Austria.

“Much was written about Kyle not being available the last time, so it’s good to have him back,” O’Neill said.

“Kyle, when he’s focused, is still our most proven goalscorer at international level.

“He’s our second all-time goal scorer behind David Healy and he still has a few years left in him and I know it’s a target he’d like to get closer to. It’s down to him now, really.”

Healy scored 36 goals for his country, with Lafferty in second place on 20.

The Rangers forward, though, is currently carrying a thigh muscle problem which stopped him from being involved in his club’s Europa League trip to Spartak Moscow, so will be assessed.

O’Neill added on the Irish FA website: “He’s got a little bit of an injury concern, so hopefully he plays for Rangers at the weekend and then we’ll see him Sunday and hopefully he gives us what he’s given us in the past.”

Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard, QPR winger Paul Smyth and Blackpool midfielder Jordan Thompson are all included by O’Neill in a 28-strong group.

Under-21s captain Liam Donnelly, though, misses out as the Motherwell defender recovers from injury.

Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn returns from his injury lay-off for the friendly in Dublin on November 15, which will be followed by the Nations League fixture against Austria at Windsor Park on November 18.

Charlton forward Jamie Ward and veteran Rangers defender Gareth McAuley are also included, while Rotherham forward Kyle Vassell, a late call-up to last month’s squad, has retained his place.

Northern Ireland are bottom of their Nations League group, and could be relegated to the second tier.

“Our performances have been good, but we haven’t got the results we maybe feel we deserve,” O’Neill said.

“We have to do everything possible to try and take as much out of the two games and that means good performances and good results.”

O’Neill added: “We’ll approach this as if it’s a double-header, similar to what we would have in the qualification for Euro 2020 that lies ahead.

“The turnaround between Thursday is difficult and a number of our players – the younger ones in particular – have not experienced the intensity of two competitive games.

“This is another opportunity to put another layer of preparation on it for them and to give them the experience.”

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