Kyle Lafferty back in Northern Ireland squad to face Republic of Ireland and Austria after apology

Lafferty situation has been 'resolved through dialogue' - O'Neill

Kyle Lafferty is back in the Northern Ireland squad to face the Republic of Ireland and Austria after apologising for "an error of judgement".

Lafferty, 31, withdrew from the panel for the Nations League double-header against Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina last month, citing an Achilles injury.

He informed NI boss Michael O'Neill at midnight the day before the squad met.

The Irish FA subsequently invoked Fifa's five-day rule which prevented the forward playing the next weekend.

The Rangers striker's participation in the games may be in doubt however as has been ruled out of his club's Europa League game against Spartak Moscow on Thursday night with a quad muscle problem.

"I spoke to Kyle on the phone and in person in Glasgow. I also spoke to Steven Gerrard (Rangers manager)," said O'Neill at the announcement of a 28-man squad.

"It's good to have him back in. He has an injury concern, so his availability is contingent on how he comes through the weekend."

Prior to last month's away fixtures, the manager explained Lafferty had "ruled himself out of the two games", adding that the matter would be dealt with on his return.

The IFA's intervention saw him ruled out of facing Hamilton Academical in Rangers' next game.

Kyle Lafferty has scored 20 goals in 68 appearances for Northern Ireland
Kyle Lafferty has scored 20 goals in 68 appearances for Northern Ireland

Lafferty's two-year NI goal drought

Lafferty has scored 20 international goals although he hasn't netted for his country since the 4-0 World Cup qualifier win over Azerbaijan at Windsor Park in November 2016.

Northern Ireland have not lost any of the 17 international games in which Lafferty has scored.

Northern Ireland face the Republic of Ireland in a friendly on 15 November in Dublin before finishing their Nations League campaign with a match against Austria in Belfast on 18 November.

Martin O'Neill's Republic side overtook Northern Ireland in the most recent Fifa rankings.

Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn returns after missing the last two games through injury, while Charlton forward Jamie Ward is back in the panel, alongside Rangers defender Gareth McAuley - both players having sat out the trips to Vienna and Sarajevo to work on their fitness with their new clubs.

Paul Smyth marked his debut by scoring the winning goal against South Korea in a friendly in Belfast in March
Paul Smyth marked his debut by scoring the winning goal against South Korea in a friendly in Belfast in March

Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard, QPR winger Paul Smyth and Blackpool midfielder Jordan Thompson are called up from the Under-21 squad, all having previously featured in senior international friendlies.

Smyth marked his debut by scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 friendly win over South Korea at Windsor Park in March.

Rotherham's Kyle Vassell retains his place in the group but Will Grigg is out injured and Sheffield United frontman Conor Washington is again omitted.

"Conor Washington has had limited game time at his club, so I went for Kyle Vassell and Paul Smyth. Conor needs more game time at Sheffield United but is available if required," said O'Neill.

Oliver Norwood is not included as he is suspended for the final Nations League encounter with the Austrians.

Nations League relegation likely

Consecutive away defeats in October have left Northern Ireland bottom of their Nations League group with relegation to the third tier of the new competition becoming increasingly likely.

Perhaps more worrying to Michael O'Neill is the fact that his side are without a win in seven competitive matches, drawing one and losing six of those games, and scoring just two goals.

The 2-0 defeat to Bosnia in mid-October meant NI have failed to score in nine of their past 11 away games, including the last six in a row.

O'Neill's charges have won just two of their last 11 fixtures.

A point against Austria in their 15 November meeting in Vienna would ensure that the Bosnians win the group, with NI facing the Austrians in their final game in the competition three days later.

Northern Ireland squad: Goalkeepers: Michael McGovern (Norwich City), Trevor Carson (Motherwell), Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Leeds United), Conor Hazard (Celtic).

Defenders: Aaron Hughes (Hearts), Gareth McAuley (Glasgow Rangers), Jonathan Evans (Leicester City), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Conor McLaughlin (Millwall), Patrick McNair (Middlesbrough), Jamal Lewis (Norwich City), Michael Smith (Hearts), Tom Flanagan (Sunderland), Bobby Burns (Livingston, loan).

Midfielders: Steven Davis (Southampton), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Corry Evans (Blackburn Rovers), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), George Saville (Middlesbrough, loan), Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock), Gavin Whyte (Oxford United), Jordan Thompson (Blackpool).

Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Rangers), Josh Magennis (Bolton Wanderers), Jamie Ward (Charlton Athletic, loan), Liam Boyce (Burton Albion), Paul Smyth (Queens Park Rangers), Kyle Vassell (Rotherham United).

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