Record goal scorer David Healy has backed Kyle Lafferty to handle the pressure of carrying Northern Ireland to next summer’s Euro finals.
Michael O’Neill’s side continued their mesmerising European adventure with Sunday’s crucial 2-1 win over Finland at Windsor Park.
Lafferty was the catalyst behind the victory, scoring a sublime brace to keep Northern Ireland second in Group F – and on course for automatic qualification.
The 27-year-old striker has scored five goals in five qualifiers to date, hitting the target in all of Northern Ireland’s four wins.
The former Rangers striker is now second in the country’s all-time goal scoring list with 14.
And former Northern Ireland talisman Healy – who tops those charts with 36 goals – is confident Lafferty can continue finding the target and guide Northern Ireland to next summer’s Euro finals in France.
“If Kyle keeps on doing what he is doing, and keeps scoring goals, then Northern Ireland should qualify for the Euro finals,” said Healy – who retired on 95 caps in 2013.
“He will have a big say on whether we make it or not. He is a crucial player for Michael and the team.
“Kyle has been at big clubs where expectation is always present.
“I was with him at Rangers and the pressure there is massive. He was a young lad at this huge club, but he always scored goals.
“He also scored important goals at crucial times. I remember one season he scored a hat-trick on the final day to seal the title and it was phenomenal.
“So he can deal with the pressures and demands. With success comes expectation, and every time he puts on the green jersey fans will expect goals.
“When I came away with Nothern Ireland I was expected to score, but I fed off that.
“Kyle is experiencing something similar now. With success comes expectation and every time he puts on the shirt, fans will expect goals, but I’m confident he will thrive on it.”
Healy is quick to heap praise on the “more mature” Lafferty, as the striker continues to silence his critics following a disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign.
Lafferty played only five of 10 qualifiers – and failed to find the target.
“I think Kyle would admit himself that he didn’t perform during the last World Cup qualifying campaign,” Healy added.
“He took a lot of flak for some of his performances and he would admit he let himself down a bit.
“But he is a big character and he has knuckled down and he is scoring goals regularly for Northern Ireland.
“I know what an asset Kyle can be. He has scored five goals in this campaign, in five qualifiers. That is a fantastic return, and long may it continue.”
Healy – currently in Belgium with Northern Ireland’s Under 16 squad – watched Sunday’s victory on an Ipad at Dublin Airport.
“We were actually at Dublin Airport waiting to fly out to Belgium, so we were watching the game on our iPads and iPhones,” he said.
“When the goals went in we were all cheering, which got us a few strange looks. But it was great to see Northern Ireland get the win.
“I think we are in a great position. Sunday’s win over Finland was massive, and with Hungary drawing with Greece it made it a great day for the fans.”