Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland duo in good form ahead of World Cup play-offs against Switzerland

Kyle Lafferty, pictured in action for Northern Ireland against Germany, has been in good form for his club Hearts recently.

GOALS against the big two of Scottish football have boosted the confidence of two players hoping to help Northern Ireland reach the World Cup next year.

Jordan Jones netted for Kilmarnock in a 1-1 draw at Celtic while Kyle Lafferty scored for Hearts, albeit in a 3-1 home defeat to his former club Rangers.

Both are in an expanded 27-man squad named for the World Cup play-offs against Switzerland on November 9 and 12.

O'Neill has been especially happy with the recent club form of the squad's leading scorer Lafferty, saying: "I saw Kyle against St Johnstone when he scored a scrappy goal but it was the winner and it counts, then I felt he did well in the Edinburgh derby and again at the weekend, with reports good and a great goal.

"He's getting that consistency in terms of scoring and close to double figures for Hearts which can only be good for his confidence."

Jones has yet to feature for Northern Ireland after his call-up to the senior squad last month, but he is attracting the attention of O'Neill:

"Jordan Jones is one of those players catching the eye in Scotland, playing in a different role behind the striker.

"He just gives you something a bit different, he is exciting as a player who wants to run with the ball and is very positive.

It has been difficult for Kilmarnock this season and difficult, at times, for him as well.

"Certainly Steve Clarke has come in as manager at Kilmarnock and they've picked up two great results at Ibrox and Parkhead straightaway.

"Jordan scored a good goal at the weekend and he is a player who, through his club form, will catch the eye and push to not only be in the squad but a place in terms of coming off the bench or pushing to be a starter."

Indeed Jones may benefit at the expense of one of the heroes of Euro 2016, former Celt Niall McGinn.

O'Neill hinted that the Donaghmore man may have to change club after his Korea move, signing for Gwangju in the K-League in the summer, has failed to pay off on the pitch:

"It's not his location [that's a problem], he's not playing, that's the biggest thing. Niall has played three or four times since he went to South Korea.

"It has not been a particularly good move from a football point of view at all. The club is struggling and there has been a change of coach so there has been upheaval there.

"Niall is an experienced player and you know what you get when you bring him in and you hope he is ready to play.

"But it is very difficult to gauge how he is because he's not playing and it's been difficult to get footage.

"I think he has a decision to make in January. He knows himself that from a football point of view he needs to look at what lies ahead for him."

O'Neill has recalled the vastly-experienced Aaron Hughes, versatile Paddy McNair, and attacker Jamie Ward after injury absences, along with utility back Rory McArdle.

"We have to name the squad 15 days out so you name it with a sense of optimism that the players will be fit.

"Aaron has worked extremely hard the last two weeks. He has been in Manchester where he has worked one-on-one to give himself the best chance possible to be involved".

Northern Ireland squad (v Switzerland, World Cup play-offs):

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

Defenders: Hughes (Hearts), McAuley, J Evans, Brunt (all West Brom), C McLaughlin (Millwall), Hodson (Rangers), McNair (Sunderland), D Lafferty (Sheffield United), McArdle (Scunthorpe), Flanagan (Burton);

Midfielders: Davis (Southampton), McGinn (Gwangju), Norwood (Fulham, loan), C Evans (Blackburn), Ferguson, Saville (both Millwall), Dallas (Leeds), Paton (St Johnstone), Lund (Burton), Jones (Kilmarnock);

Forwards: K Lafferty (Hearts), Magennis (Charlton), Washington (QPR), Ward (Nottingham Forest).

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