Michael O’Neill critical of Kyle Lafferty’s contribution
‘I had a good conversation with Kyle and he was very apologetic and recognises he has let his team-mates down’
Northern Ireland’s Kyle Lafferty gets sent off off against Portugal last week. Photograph: Jonathan Porter/Presseye
In five qualifiers he has managed no goals, two yellow cards, one sending-off, a couple of injuries and countless offsides.
If that is the case, he can consider it an unmitigated failure judging by his manager’s verdict.
“The reality is that he misses this game suspended and I’d say he’ll miss the next two as well, that wouldn’t surprise me,” said O’Neill. “We will address it after that. I had a good conversation with Kyle and he was very apologetic and recognises he has let his team-mates down.
“I would never say I would wash my hands of him or anything like that because he is still a player who can potentially be a big asset to the squad. But at this minute in time he is not giving us very much and he knows that.
“After quite a good start to the campaign he has contributed very little and he knows he won’t have contributed very much in the second half of the campaign.
“He knows he needs to address that, not only for me but for the lads he plays alongside as well.”
With qualification off the agenda and Luxembourg hardly presenting the sternest of tests, O’Neill also found himself casting a glance forward to the Euro 2016 trail.
Despite just one win in seven matches in Group F — and high hopes for a second at the Stade Josy Barthel — his evolving squad have shown signs of encouragement.
The defeat of Russia last month is an obvious high point, but both performances against a highly-rated Portugal side have been positive, despite yielding just one point.
To carry that feeling forward, though, O’Neill will need to hold on to senior men such as 33-year-old Gareth McAuley and former captain Aaron Hughes.
O’Neill’s first task as manager was to persuade Hughes to reverse his decision to retire and it is an appeal he will make again — as and when the Irish Football Association confirm his own future.
“Those are the kind of conversations that need to be had, but at this point I may not be the manager for the next campaign, these are things to be determined,” he said, though it is highly unliklely he will not be handed a new deal.
“I’ve had a good conversation with Gareth and then there’s Aaron...he has been the easiest player I’ve had to deal with. I would certainly be pushing Aaron to continue. I brought thim out of retirement and asked him to play not in his natural position (right-back instead of central defence). The fact that he does that and continues to do that at such a level is testament to the player.
“He’s still so vitally important to us.”
Hughes has 87 caps to date and O’Neill believes the prospect of joining goalkeeping great Pat Jennings as only the second player to reach a century for his country could be the incentive he needs.
“The 100-cap mark is a great carrot,” he added. “Given the service he has offered to Northern Ireland there’s not a finer person to be the first outfield player to achieve that.”
Northern Ireland have no major injury worries heading into the match, with Jamie Ward, Shane Ferguson and Niall McGinn all set to be available following knocks against Portugal.
Dean Shiels is on hand having been called up as cover for Lafferty, while Daniel Lafferty is available after suspension and will slot in at left-back.