Kyle Lafferty: Michael O'Neill says NI striker cited Achilles injury for withdrawal

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Lafferty 'certainly hasn't helped his international future' - O'Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill says Kyle Lafferty cited an Achilles injury when he withdrew from the squad for the Nations League games against Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Northern Ireland boss said on Tuesday that the Rangers striker had "ruled himself out" of the games.

O'Neill was informed of Lafferty's withdrawal late on Sunday.

"Kyle had an Achilles problem, we knew he had an Achilles problem in September," said O'Neill in Vienna.

"He felt he would be better served not coming and being part of the squad for these two games - albeit he's been part of the Rangers squad all season."

Northern Ireland face Austria in Vienna on Friday before taking on the Bosnians in Sarajevo on Monday.

Kyle Lafferty battles with Miralem Pjanic in last month's game against Bosnia-Herzegovina
Kyle Lafferty started the defeat by Bosnia-Herzegovina last month

O'Neill unhappy to be phoned '12 o'clock at night'

The Northern Ireland manager reiterated his upset at the 11th-hour nature of Lafferty's withdrawal from the squad.

"I was unhappy to be telephoned 12 o'clock at night, [when I was] expecting the player to turn up on Monday.

"Kyle made himself unavailable. I've said all along, international football is a choice. The player decides to play or he doesn't."

Given the importance of the next two games after Northern Ireland's opening home defeat by the Bosnians, O'Neill is keen to make sure Lafferty's absence does not become a distraction.

"It's disappointing but we moved on quickly and concentrated on the players that are here," he said.

"I plan to have a chat [with him] but not before the game.

"There's not another international after this until November so there's plenty of time to have that conversation."

Following media speculation that Lafferty may have played his final game for Northern Ireland, O'Neill said it was "not a case that his international career is hanging in the balance" but did acknowledge that the striker's late withdrawal "certainly hasn't helped his international future".

O'Neill then responded to being asked whether he wanted to see Lafferty returning to the squad by saying: "I want to see Kyle happy and playing football."

Michael O'Neill with Gavin Whyte at Northern Ireland training in Vienna on Thursday night
Michael O'Neill says he was surprised by the Oxford boss' comments

NI boss dismisses Oxford manager's Whyte complaint

The Northern Ireland boss dismissed complaints from Oxford United boss Karl Robinson over Gavin Whyte's presence in the squad.

Whyte's inclusion was no surprise after he scored with his first touch in international football when he made his debut against Israel last month.

But with Oxford bottom of League One, Robinson asked for Whyte to be released to face fellow strugglers Plymouth on Saturday.

After that request was denied, Robinson questioned whether the call-up was "fair on fans, players and staff" at Oxford.

O'Neill said he was surprised by the comment.

"I thought the comment that Gavin is not an important player for us is a bit belittling of the player, given that Gavin was named in the original squad," he said.

"I can guarantee you that if a club comes in for Gavin Whyte, the first thing Oxford United will say is that he's an international player."