Euro 2020 qualifiers: Cathcart, Lewis and Smith make Northern Ireland squad for double-header

Craig Cathcart has made the squad despite suffering a back spasm while playing for Watford
Craig Cathcart has made the squad despite suffering a back spasm while playing for Watford

Defensive duo Craig Cathcart and Michael Smith have been included in Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland squad for this month's Euro 2020 qualifying double-header.

Both players had recently picked up injuries playing for their clubs.

NI face the Netherlands at Windsor Park on 16 November before taking on Germany in Frankfurt three days later.

Jamal Lewis also returns to the squad having missed last month's defeat by the Dutch due to injury.

Uncapped St Johnstone winger Matthew Kennedy has retained his place in O'Neill's 25-man panel after receiving his first call-up in October.

O'Neill's side are third, three points behind the Dutch leaders with Germany second, heading into the final two Group C qualifiers.

There had been concerns over the fitness of Cathcart and Smith after both players were forced off with injuries while playing for their clubs last weekend.

Cathcart came off 20 minutes into Watford's Premier League defeat by Chelsea on Saturday with a back spasm, while Hearts full-back Smith also had to be substituted during his side's League Cup semi-final loss to Rangers on Sunday with a quad injury.

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'We have to win against the Dutch' - NI manager O'Neill

"They're vital," said O'Neill when asked about Cathcart and Smith.

"They're first-choice players. Michael's probably more of a concern because he had to come off in the game for his club. Craig as well has been brilliant for us for so long.

"Touch wood that both lads come through the weekend and can play for us."

"Michael Smith has had a scan, we will look at that and we'll assess the players obviously when they come together on Monday."

However, they are available for selection, while there are further boosts for O'Neill with the inclusion of Gavin Whyte and Jordan Thompson.

Whyte did not feature for Cardiff City over the weekend while Thompson is set to return to action for Blackpool on Saturday having missed the Tangerines' League One victory over Peterborough United.

Linfield's Shayne Lavery came on as a late substitution in NI's defeat by Germany at Windsor Park in September
Linfield's Shayne Lavery came on as a late substitution in NI's defeat by Germany at Windsor Park in September

Whyte's Cardiff teammate Ciaron Brown and Linfield striker Shayne Lavery have kept their places following their call-ups in September.

Lavery is the sole Irish League representative in the panel. The 20-year-old been in fine form for Linfield this season with 12 goals in all competitions.

Northern Ireland conceded two injury-time goals as they lost 3-1 to the Netherlands in their last Euro 2020 qualifier in Rotterdam last month.

That defeat crushed their hopes of securing automatic qualification, with the Dutch and Germany both three points ahead of O'Neill's side.

"We have to win the first game, simple as that," said O'Neill.

"If we can take it to the last game and have something to play for in Frankfurt, it'll be a magnificent achievement by the players."

Northern Ireland squad to face the Netherlands and Germany
Goalkeepers: McGovern, Peacock-Farrell, Carson
Defenders: J Evans, Cathcart, McLaughlin, Lewis, Smith, Flanagan, Brown
Midfielders: Davis, McGinn, C Evans, Dallas, Ferguson, McNair, Saville, Whyte, Thompson, Donnelly, Kennedy
Forwards: Lafferty, Magennis, Boyce, Lavery