O’Neill praises NI Goal-ace Lafferty

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and Jonny Evans walk off the pitch  after defeating Finland 2-1 in Sunday's Euro 2016 Qualifier at Windsor Park, Belfast.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and Jonny Evans walk off the pitch after defeating Finland 2-1 in Sunday's Euro 2016 Qualifier at Windsor Park, Belfast.

Michael O’Neill hailed Kyle Lafferty after the striker floored Finland with a deadly double blast at Windsor Park.

Lafferty continued his international renaissance with two goals in five first-half minutes as Northern Ireland took another significant step towards next summer’s European Championship finals.

Northern Ireland goal hero Kyle Lafferty salutes the fans at Windsor Park

Northern Ireland goal hero Kyle Lafferty salutes the fans at Windsor Park

The 27-year-old has experienced a nomadic club career over the past four years, one that has seen him feature with clubs in Switzerland and Italy.

He is currently plying his trade with Turkish outfit Rizespor, having been sent out on-loan from Norwich City.

Despite an unsettled club life, Lafferty continues to deliver on the international stage.

He has now scored five goals in five Euro 2016 qualifiers, extending his Northern Ireland tally to 14.

The rangy striker is now second in his country’s all-time goal-scoring list - only David Healy boasts a better record with 36 goals.

“Kyle is going on the pitch with Northern Ireland and he feels he can score in every game he plays,” O’Neill said.

“I think it is difficult because he is a little bit in the David Healy situation where his club career isn’t going as well as what he would like.

“He got a move to Norwich and is now out on loan in Turkey with Rizespor. But when he has pulled on the green shirt in this campaign he has been absolutely outstanding.

“Not just for his goals - he was also outstanding in Romania - and he is showing what he is capable of on this type of stage.

“His two finishes tonight were fantastic, and we knew if we could get the ball in the box then he would cause problems.

“I am delighted for Kyle, because I believe there is so much potential in him as a player, and he is starting to fulfill that potential for Northern Ireland.

“I can’t comment on what other managers see or don’t see in Kyle. At the end of the day I only have Kyle for a week, which is maybe a good thing.

“Kyle has delivered against high-ranked opposition in these qualifiers. Against defenders who play for Ajax, Roma and Borussia Dortmund.

“His club situation won’t change between now and the end of the season, but hopefully he keeps getting game time at Rizespor. It is another experience for him in Turkey.

“Any manager who watched Kyle today, in that kind of mood, must be thinking how they get him in their team. There will be a lot of managers looking at this performance and exploring any opportunities to get him at their club.”

Northern Ireland remain second in Euro qualifying Group F - one point behind Romania who laboured to 1-0 win over the Faroe Islands yesterday.

O’Neill admits he couldn’t be happier at how the campaign has unfolded so far.

“If you offered me this at the start of the campaign, I wouldn’t have had to think too long about my answer,” he added.

“We are in a really strong position.

“Romania beat the Faroes 1-0, so it shows you how tight the games are. There are no gimmes in this group and it will be difficult.

“But we are progressing and the belief is there. We are solid defensively and we are creating chances. And we also have Kyle scoring goals, and that goal threat has been missing since David Healy retired.”