Northern Ireland’s prospects of a successful start to the World Cup qualifying campaign suffered a heavy blow before the squad even departed for Bratislava. Influential young striker, Kyle Lafferty, misses the first game and is a serious doubt for the second, after suffering a back injury. The opening match is an away fixture in Slovakia on Saturday and then Worthington’s side face the Czech Republic in Belfast next Wednesday.
Lafferty was noticeably missed when Northern Ireland competed against Scotland at Hampden Park two weeks ago. He provides physical presence, height, a deft touch, an ability to hold up the ball and goalscoring threat. The player is an ideal foil for David Healy and neither Warren Feeney, nor Martin Patterson can offer the qualities which the Rangers’ forward brings to the team.
Northern Ireland’s home form during the previous campaign was outstanding. Despite an ability to grind out draws against good quality opposition, away form has been our Achilles heal. Meanwhile Slovakia started their last campaign by lashing 11 goals past Cyprus and Wales, whilst Northern Ireland was crushed by Iceland. This is a tremendously tricky trip, but if qualification is not to be a pipe-dream once more, we simply must return with something.