NI boss O’Neill faced with Lafferty call

Kyle Lafferty challenges Czech goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik in Prague last month

Kyle Lafferty looked short of match practice in last month’s game in Prague

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Michael O’Neill’s main selection issue for Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against San Marino looks to be whether to start Kyle Lafferty.

Lafferty, 29, made little impression in the draw against the Czech Republic last month and has since remained largely out of favour at Norwich.

Manager O’Neill must decide whether to again opt for a lone central striker in Saturday’s game at Windsor Park.

QPR’s Conor Washington and Charlton’s Josh Magennis are the other options.

Washington scored in his club’s Championship win over Fulham last weekend.

With the Group C minnows Saturday’s opposition at Windsor Park, it looks to an opportunity for O’Neill to operate with two central strikers but guessing the Northern Ireland manager’s selection is never easy.

Two weeks after the Prague qualifier, Lafferty came on as an injury-time substitute in the Championship win over Nottingham Forest and he featured for 45 minutes in the EFL Cup win over Everton three days later.

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NI win over San Marino essential says O’Neill

However, Lafferty has not been part of Norwich’s last three matchday squads to continue his frustrating stint at Carrow Road.

Lafferty scored seven of Northern Ireland’s 16 goals in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign but has not added to his 17 international goals since scoring in the friendly win over Belarus in May.

O’Neill also has a decision to make on his defensive formation.

The Northern Ireland boss picked a flat back four in Prague with Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans in central defence and Conor McLaughlin and Shane Ferguson operating in the full-back roles.

Aaron Hughes’ return to the squad, following Craig Cathcart’s withdrawal, could see the 103-cap veteran operating as part of a three-man defence alongside McAuley and Evans.

Former Newcastle and Aston Villa defender Hughes signed for Indian Super League side Kerala Blasters after Euro 2016 but his new club’s season has yet to start.

On Wednesday, Paul Paton and Callum Morris were called into the squad for Saturday’s game and next Tuesday’s contest against Germany in Hanover.

St Johnstone midfielder Paton has two caps, the most recent coming in the friendly away to Wales in March.

Aberdeen defender Morris was part of the squad for the opening Group C qualifier against the Czech Republic, but did not play in the game in Prague.

Northern Ireland’s updated squad:

Goalkeepers: Michael McGovern (Norwich), Alan Mannus (St Johnstone), Trevor Carson (Hartlepool)

Defenders: Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans (both West Brom), Aaron Hughes (Kerala Blasters), Conor McLaughlin (Fleetwood), Lee Hodson (Rangers), Michael Smith (Peterborough), Tom Flanagan (Burton), Ryan McGivern (Shrewsbury Town), Callum Morris (Aberdeen)

Midfielders: Steven Davis (Southampton), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Oliver Norwood (Brighton), Corry Evans (Blackburn), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Paddy McNair (Sunderland), Matthew Lund (Rochdale), Paul Paton (St Johnstone)

Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Norwich), Josh Magennis (Charlton), Conor Washington (QPR)

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