STRIKER Jamie Ward has been ruled out of Northern Ireland’s crunch World Cup qualifier with Azerbaijan next week.
The Derby County forward has pulled out of Michael O’Neill’s squad due an ongoing hamstring problem.
Ward was forced out of last month’s Group F qualifier in Portugal when Northern Ireland earned a heroic 1-1 draw in Oporto.
The Rams striker was named in O’Neill’s squad on Monday despite not having played for his club since September 30.
Derby boss Nigel Clough told reporters yesterday: “He won’t be fit – I can understand they want him but firstly he has to be fit for us.
“He’s not looking like he’ll be back this week, so it would be difficult for him to make next week’s international.”
The Irish Football Association followed up by confirming the 26-year-old’s withdrawal, with a brief statement that read: “Jamie has been ruled out of Northern Ireland’s World Cup Qualifier against Azerbaijan next week as a result of a hamstring injury.”
No replacement has been named.
Northern Ireland now have five strikers available for the pivotal home clash with Azerbaijan.
Record-goalscorer David Healy, Rangers duo Dean Shiels and Andrew Little, FC Sion forward Kyle Lafferty and Walsall youngster Will Grigg are included.
Northern Ireland resume their Group F campaign next Wednesday night knowing victory is paramount after picking up just two points from their opening three games.