Worthington backs Healy & Lafferty to rescue NI

October 12, 2008

Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington is banking on David Healy and Kyle Lafferty to get their team's World Cup campaign back on track.

After the 2-0 defeat in Slovenia, the province have failed to find the target in 270 minutes - they benefited from an own goal in the defeat by Slovakia.

Healy scored a record 13 times in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign but was again left frustrated yesterday, and a lack of appearances for Sunderland is clearly not helping the province's talisman.

Lafferty, who missed the draw with the Czech Republic, put in a hard shift but should have scored in the second half when one on one with Samir Handanovic.

Instead, the Rangers striker sent his effort into the goalkeeper's chest - and it proved a crucial moment in the match.

Slovenia went on to seal victory thanks to goals from the in-form Milivoje Novakovic and substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic in the 84th and 85th minutes.

The likes of Martin Paterson - seven goals in 13 games for Burnley - Warren Feeney and Peter Thompson are all eager to step into the province's attack.

But Worthington had nothing but praise for the way Healy and Lafferty went about their business at the Ljudski VRT Stadium.

He said: "We created the better chances, and I thought David looked more like himself.

"He was sharp and lively. He had a little dink in the second half when the ball hit the top of the net. That is what he is about.

"As for Kyle, he was tremendous. He was powerful and quick throughout the game. He was a handful for the Slovenia back line.

"However, we do need get to turn chances into goals if we are to get our campaign up and running. At the moment, we are playing catch-up in the group.''

Captain Aaron Hughes is also backing the Healy-Lafferty partnership to deliver.

"It is good to have Kyle back, because he is a player that gives you that extra option,'' said the Fulham defender.

"Kyle will be able to help David with his knock-downs. His height is a threat for us.

"However, it is up to us to try and create a few more chances for David as well as Kyle - and hope they will stick a few of them away.''

Northern Ireland now have back-to-back matches with traditional whipping boys San Marino, the first of which is at Windsor Park on Wednesday.

The visitors are still looking for their first win in 18 years of competitive football. Their only victory came back in 2004 when they defeated Liechtenstein 1-0 in a friendly, and anything other than a defeat is seen as a resounding success.

Not surprisingly, San Marino went down 3-1 to Slovakia yesterday. But Worthington is refusing to take anything for granted even though England, Spain and Sweden have been beaten in recent years in Belfast.

Northern Ireland's confidence is fragile, because they have taken only only one point from three qualifiers.

He said: "It won't be as easy as people expect. I'll just be happy if we win 1-0 and get three points on the board.''

Manchester United defender Jonny Evans is sidelined through suspension after picking up his second yellow card of the campaign.

Evans' absence could see Gareth McAuley move into the middle, with Chris Baird switching to right-back and midfielder Michael O'Connor reinstated.