McAuley a doubt for Irish

Martin o'neill Gareth McAuley northern ireland world cup qualifier injury Azerbaijan
2 August 2015; Northern Ireland’s Gareth McAuley during a press conference. Northern Ireland Press Conference. Culloden Hotel, Belfast. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Gareth McAuley is an injury doubt for Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifier with Azerbaijan.

The West Brom defender, 37, will sit out Friday’s friendly international against New Zealand with a thigh injury, but remains part of Michael O’Neill’s squad for the 10 June qualifier in Baku.

Northern Ireland go into their game with Azerbaijan second in Group C, five points behind leaders Germany, but two ahead of the third-placed Czech Republic.

O’Neill, however, is also without Conor Washington (getting married) and Jamie Ward (injured), so has included Kyle Lafferty despite the strike having not played any competitive football since coming on as a late substitute in the World Cup qualifying win over Norway in March. Lafferty has been released by Norwich City.

Game ready

“The big part of last week and this week is to assess which players are most game ready,” said O’Neill, who has been impressed by Lafferty’s hard work at the side’s Manchester training camp.

There’s also a first ball up for Accrington Stanley forward and former Down Minor Gaelic footballer Shay McCartan, who has come through the Northern Ireland Under 21.

Watford defender Craig Cathcart (knock) is another, like McAuley, who will not be risked against New Zealand, so O’Neill has named Southend’s Adam Thompson and Burton Albion’s Tom Flanagan his 25-man squad.

Martin o'neill Gareth McAuley northern ireland world cup qualifier injury Azerbaijan
26 March 2017; Northern Ireland Manager Michael O’Neill during the FIFA World Cup Qualifer Group C match between Northern Ireland and Norway at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

With Washington and Ward unavailable, Ross County striker Liam Boyce and Charlton’s Josh Magennis lead the line against Azerbaijan. Boyce racked up 23 goals in his 34 games for Ross County this season.

“He offers a lot. His range of goals has been impressive. He’s deceptively quick, and good at link-up play. He’s adaptable and a really good player,” said O’Neill.

Northern Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: McGovern (Norwich City), Mannus (St Johnstone), Carroll (Linfield).

Defenders: McAuley (West Brom), Evans (West Brom), Hughes (Hearts), Cathcart (Watford), Brunt (West Brom), C McLaughlin (Fleetwood), Hodson (Rangers), R McLaughlin (Oldham), Thompson (Southend), D Lafferty (Sheffield United), Flanagan (Burton Albion).

Midfielders: Davis (Southampton), McGinn (Aberdeen), Norwood (Brighton), Ferguson (Millwall), Dallas (Leeds), Lund (Burton Albion), Paton (St Johnstone).

Strikers: K Lafferty (Norwich), Magennis (Charlton), Boyce (Ross County), McCartan (Accrington Stanley).


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