Sunday 26 January 2020

Northern Ireland's Conor Washington encouraged by Norway's depleted defence

Norway's depleted defence has given Conor Washington plenty of encouragement for Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier this Sunday.

The Scandinavians visit Windsor Park at the beginning of a new era under Lars Lagerback without four of the players who started their most recent game against the Czech Republic in November.

Midfielders Alexander Tettey and Per Ciljan Skjelbred have both called time on their international careers while Palermo defender Haitam Aleesami is suspended and Brighton centre-back Vegard Forren is injured.

Stefan Strandberg made the last squad but is injured too while there is no place for fellow defender Martin Linnes, meaning only three of the recognised defenders in the Norwegians' squad have reached double figures in caps.

"We know a little bit and a lot of the lads aren't in the squad from the team that's played," Washington said of Norway.

"They might have to have a makeshift defence which makes your eyes light up as a striker.

"This is a big game, they've got a new manager and they're going to want to get on some sort of run to steal our spot essentially. It's really important that at home we put down a marker.

"You'd probably say Germany are going to win the group realistically barring some massive crash from them so second place is where we want to be. We're exactly where we want to be points-wise and performance-wise up to now."

On both occasions when Washington has started at Windsor Park - against Slovenia and Belarus - he has scored and his form at QPR has picked up too with four goals in 2017.

With an injury concern over Josh Magennis and Kyle Lafferty still out of favour at Norwich, 24-year-old Washington would appear to be the obvious choice to lead the line for Michael O'Neill.

"I've just got to go into training this week and prove I'm the sharpest and the best man for the job," the forward added.

"If you look at the players we've got in that area, we've got lads in decent form. Liam Boyce is scoring a lot of goals, Josh Magennis has done well for Charlton and did really well at Germany away. It's good for strikers. You come away and you know you're going to be in for a battle, which I'm not sure we've had that over the last couple of years."

Charlton's Magennis is not the only player that boss O'Neill will have to assess in the build-up as Blackburn midfielder Corry Evans has not played since early January due to a groin strain.

"It's a case of monitoring those players and they've been pretty much off their feet with training - they've just been with the medical team the opening two or three days," O'Neill said.

"We knew in the case of Corry and Josh that that would be the case.

"We just have to see how Corry is, whether he's going to be able to be included or not. As usual Corry was very keen to play.

"He's only played 45 minutes with the reserves last Monday so it's been a long time for him. We knew bringing him that he wouldn't be fit to start the game but he would be in a position if we needed him for 15, 20 minutes. We'll have to assess that."

PA Media

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