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Northern Ireland Win In Hungary After Kyle Lafferty Crowns Late Comeback

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MICHAEL O’Neill lauded Kyle Lafferty after the Norwich City forward inspired Northern Ireland to a first away win in four years in Budapest.

Lafferty has long been a mercurial presence for his country, offering so much promise but too often failing to deliver, and he came into the Euro 2016 opener against Hungary having not scored in more than two years. But he was the hero on this occasion, producing a fine run and assist for Niall McGinn to equalise Tamas Priskin’s 75th-minute opener with nine minutes to go, and then scrambling home from close range to nick a win in the closing moments.

O’Neill has been critical of Lafferty’s discipline in the past but he was glad to see the 26-year-old deliver at a crucial time. “We needed someone to step up and Laff did that for us, I’m delighted for him,” said O’Neill. “For the first goal he made a great run, a great piece of play. We needed something big to open the game up and Lafferty gave us that. Then he finds the winner as well.

“He gave us great energy all night but he needed that goal, he really did. When he’s focused and he’s right on it he’s an asset to any team and he showed that here.”

Lafferty now has 10 international goals to his name and O’Neill is hoping he can become a regular scorer – something Northern Ireland have been crying out for since David Healy’s heyday. And in looking for further inspiration, O’Neill did not have to go too far afield.

“We need a big campaign from Kyle now. He’s started great and now we need him to stay fit and keep producing,” said O’Neill. “Kyle needs to give us as a centre-forward what someone like Gareth McAuley gives us as a centre-back or what Steven Davis gives us as a midfielder. We need a big campaign from all of those players.”

“When you play away from home you need a focal point and that has to be Kyle because our other strikers maybe don’t have the experience Kyle does or aren’t playing at his level.”

Not only was the result Northern Ireland’s first success on their travels since a 2010 win in Slovenia, it was also O’Neill’s second win in more than two and a half years at the helm. That is a record that had started to become an albatross around his neck but he insisted he had never lost heart about what his side could achieve. “I don’t dwell on things like that,” he said. “This is a group of players that in the last campaign got very little in their favour. We’ve had very little luck but I hoped we could change that this time.”

“We’ve hammered it home to them that we’ve never stopped believing in them. The performance and workrate were there and I just felt there was a belief in the players I maybe haven’t seen before.

“The workrate throughout the game was fantastic and they executed the game plan to a tee. But to have gone behind and then go on to win is huge for us, a really big start to the campaign for us.

“We believed we could come here and get something but three points is maybe more than we believed we could get. We’ve always been difficult to beat but now we have shown we can win from that platform.” – The Guardian

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