Northern Ireland host Kosovo at Windsor Park on Saturday in the first of their final two Nations League fixtures of this campaign.After a winless run through four games in June, the pressure is on manager Ian Baraclough, but the build-up to the fixture has been dominated by controversy surrounding veteran striker Kyle Lafferty.Here, the PA news agency looks at the key talking points ahead of the game.The Irish FA announced on Friday morning that Northern Ireland’s second-highest goalscorer had been withdrawn from Baraclough’s squad for these fixtures, 24 hours after his club Kilmarnock announced they had launched an investigation into a video circulating online which appeared to show him using alleged sectarian language.
The Irish FA’s statement also said Lafferty had been struggling with a back problem which Baraclough later said would have ruled him out of Saturday’s game regardless, adding a layer of ambiguity as to the precise reason for his withdrawal.
Questions on the matter in Friday’s press conference were shut down in some often tense encounters, and the matter has now very much overshadowed the build-up to an important match.By Thursday evening it had seemed likely Lafferty would be sent home following Kilmarnock’s announcement of an investigation into the video, even if confirmation did not come until the following day.
Even so, Baraclough opted against calling in a replacement for the Kosovo game and the trip to Greece that follows. On Thursday afternoon, Baraclough had been at the Blanchflower Stadium to watch Northern Ireland Under-21s suffer a 3-1 defeat to Scotland, but he allowed Dale Taylor, the 18-year-old who earned a senior cap last November, to travel with John Schofield’s side to St Mirren for aRead more on independent.co.uk