It’s time for Kyle Lafferty to get his chance at Norwich City
- Credit: PA
The Kyle Lafferty stick grew just a bit larger for Alex Neil on Friday evening.
The 29-year-old's smart finish in Northern Ireland's 4-0 win over Azerbaijan demonstrated what a lot of Norwich City fans already knew...Lafferty is a natural goalscorer.
And with every goal that the former Rangers man notches, the Lafferty stick grows a little bigger –and City fans are desperate to beat Neil with whatever stick they can find at the moment given their recent run of form.
Lafferty has been away on international duty before, performed heroics, before taking his seat on the substitutes' bench at Carrow Road.
But it feels different this time.
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Lafferty joined up with the Northern Ireland squad on the back of a goalcoring cameo against Leeds when it looked like he had secured a point with a late equaliser. I don't have to go into what subsequently happened.
The fact he was even on the pitch in the first place was a surprise and demonstrates just how desperate the situation is becoming for Neil.
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It would have been quite easy for Lafferty to go through the motions when thrown on for the final six minutes. The fact he didn't shows a level of professionalism that perhaps some thought he wasn't capable of.
Lafferty could have taken the view that a change of manager might be exactly what his Norwich career needs.
He has been used just four times, as a substitute, in the league this season and it's quite apparent how far down the striker pecking order he is.
Desperate times called for desperate measures and Lafferty delivered with the kind of finish that Northern Ireland fans have become accustomed to.
The fact he followed this up with his 20th goal for Northern Ireland means that a degree of momentum, certainly amongst City fans, is gathering for the striker.
It will be a real test for Neil to see whether he can ignore that driving force. If he does then he had better hope that Cameron Jerome continues to deliver. with the 30-year-old shouldering too much of the goalscoring burden so far this season.
But Jerome can't be expected to lead the line repeatedly in what is always an exhausting Championship season. Nelson Oliveira was brought in for big money but whether he has got the kind of nose for goal Lafferty has demonstrated is open to question.
From the summer transfer window when City fans were apoplectic at the board's failure to sign another striker, the feeling has shifted towards bringing in a quality centre half given the club's all too clear problems at the back in recent games.
But City could be developing a problem at the other end of the pitch given their reliance on Jerome and Lafferty surely offers an easy solution.
No, he doesn't run the channels and show the kind of mobility that Neil likes. But the pretty game that Neil encourages isn't always played in the Championship.
Sometimes you need the kind of streetwise, rugged finishing that Lafferty offers.
The January transfer window opens in just under eight weeks. In the meantime, Lafferty must surely get his chance. If he doesn't take it then a parting of the ways is inevitable.
But if Neil doesn't even give Lafferty an opportunity then that stick will get bigger...and I'm not sure how much bigger he can afford it to get.