NORTHERN Ireland boss Michael O’Neill took a swipe at striker Kyle Lafferty following his dismissal in Friday night dramatic World Cup qualifier against Portugal at Windsor Park.
The big Palermo man was only on the pitch 13 minutes when he lunged into an outrageous tackle on Joao Periera, leaving Dutch referee Danny Makkelie with no option but to produce a red card.
It was a game that had everything, with Cristiano Ronaldo taking top billing. It looked so good for Northern Ireland when goals from Gareth McAuley and Jamie Ward cancelled out Bruno Alves opener.
And, it appeared it was going to be another one of those famous nights at the old stadium before its redevelopment when Portugal’s Helder Postiga was dismissed just before the break.
But it all went horribly wrong. Northern Ireland had Chris Brunt and Lafferty both dismissed, while Ronaldo lived up to his world superstar status by hammering in a sensational hat-trick.
Brunt and Lafferty are now out of Tuesday’s game in Luxembourg.
“We don’t have that many players,” rapped O’Neill. “We need players to be reliable.
“Lafferty’s challenge was ridiculous. It was reckless and I think he let the players down, he let his team mates down. What you want from your team is players you can rely on.
“I have every sympathy for Chris. I played him at left back which is an unfamiliar role for him.
“The first tackle was certainly a booking, but the second one, the guy goes to ground and the entire Portuguese bench were on their feet urging the ref to get the card out. It was a big turning point in the game.”
O’Neill admitted there was just no stopping Ronaldo, who has now bagged 43 goals for his country, especially when his team were reduced to 10 men.
He added: “Ronaldo doesn’t do that much in the game, but he’s away with a hat-trick. That’s the sign of a world class player.
“He’s probably one of the best players we’ll ever see in this stadium. We denied him a lot of the ball, especially in the first half.
“But when the game opens up, he is capable of running riot.”
O’Neill admitted he thought another shock result was on the cards, especially when Ward waded in with Northern Ireland’s second goal.
“The performance in the first half was really good. All the things we saw against Russia were there again.
“But when the sides were evened up with Chris’s dismissal and then 10 versus nine after Lafferty was sent off, there was too much room for such a quality side.”