Kyle Lafferty is the very much the poster boy of Northern Ireland's UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying camapign, an added-time equaliser against Hungary on Monday night taking his Group F total to seven goals.
Before the match the 27-year-old striker had spoken of his desire to show the real him, not the "clown" he said marred his time with clubs such as Rangers and Norwich City. He seemed to be failing in that mission when he was booked early on for a silly challenge, earning a suspension for Northern Ireland's next match, against Greece. His late, late goal though – at a time when Northern Ireland were down to ten men, following Chris Baird's dismissal – showed why the tall striker with the velvet touch is so crucial to Northern Ireland's chances, sweeping in a rebound in the 93rd minute after Gábor Király had spilled Niall McGinn’s shot.
"We knew Hungary are a good team but we dug deep and realised what a good team we can be," Lafferty said afterwards. "Every player stuck to his task and everyone who watched the game will realise what good team spirit we have – this team doesn't know when it's beaten, and we're not afraid of anybody."
Lafferty's captain Steven Davies is just glad the indefatigable, 45-time capped forward with 16 international goals to his name is on his team, not facing him. "He looked like he was running on empty to be honest because he hasn't had any game time [for his club, Norwich] this season but he kept plugging away and it has been the story with him for the whole campaign so far – he's been in the right place at the right time and to get the equaliser for us.
"It could prove to be a massive goal," the 30-year-old added. "He's been huge for us and has shown a level of consistency which has been great for the team. Qualifying for EURO 2016 would be an unbelievable achievement for a nation of our size – we know how difficult it is but we've put together a good run of games and together with Kyle's goal we think maybe it's fully deserved."
Still top of their section, since Romania could only draw 0-0 with Greece, Northern Ireland's dream remains very much alive, with an away game against Finland to follow the home tie with Greece.
"Qualification would be my best achievement," Lafferty concluded. "I've won a title with Rangers and achieved promotion with Norwich but you can always win titles with your club. I was born here – it's my country, and the fans have always been behind us 100%. Even when we were losing games against Luxembourg and teams like that, they were still behind us.
"Qualification would mean everything and I think it's about time we made an appearance in a major tournament. It would have been nice to seal qualification tonight but we'll have to put the champagne on ice for now. I'm still sure we'll qualify though."
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