Lafferty back in Northern Ireland fold

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Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty has been recalled to the Northern Ireland squad for the matches against the Republic of Ireland and Austria.

Lafferty pulled out of the last squad with an Achilles injury at short notice, which saw the Irish Football Association implement FIFA’s five-day rule to prevent him from returning to club action for Rangers’ next fixture.

The Rangers forward, currently carrying a thigh muscle problem which stopped him from being involved in the Europa League trip to Spartak Moscow, will return after he apologised for “an error of judgement”, according to the Irish FA.

Manager Michael O’Neill said, quoted on the official Northern Ireland Twitter feed: “I’ve had
a good conversation with Kyle Lafferty and the senior players. We are all happy he is back in the squad.”

Under-21s trio Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard, QPR winger Paul Smyth and Blackpool midfielder Jordan Thompson are all included by O’Neill in a 28-strong group, looking to add to their senior international caps.

Under-21s captain Liam Donnelly, though, misses out as the Motherwell defender recovers from injury.

Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn returns from his injury lay-off for the friendly in Dublin on November 15, which will be followed by the Nations League fixture against Austria at Windsor Park on November 18.

Charlton forward Jamie Ward and veteran Rangers defender Gareth McAuley are also included now fully match fit, while Rotherham forward Kyle Vassell, a late call-up to last month’s squad, has retained his place.

Northern Ireland are bottom of their Nations League group, and could be relegated to the second tier.

“We’ll treat the upcoming games as the double headers we will get next year in the Euro 2020 qualifiers,” O’Neill added.

Northern Ireland squad for the matches against the Republic of Ireland and Austria:

Goalkeepers: Michael McGovern (Norwich), Trevor Carson (Motherwell), Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Leeds), Conor Hazard (Celtic)
Defenders: Aaron Hughes (Hearts), Gareth McAuley (Rangers), Jonathan Evans (Leicester), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Conor McLaughlin (Millwall), Patrick McNair (Middlesbrough), Jamal Lewis (Norwich), Michael Smith (Hearts), Tom Flanagan (Sunderland).
Midfielders: Steven Davis (Southampton), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Corry Evans (Blackburn), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), George Saville (Middlesbrough), Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock), Gavin Whyte (Oxford), Jordan Thompson (Blackpool)
Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Rangers), Josh Magennis (Bolton), Jamie Ward (Charlton), Liam Boyce (Burton), Paul Smyth (QPR), Kyle Vassell (Rotherham).