Austria v Northern Ireland preview: Michael O'Neill sends warning to Kyle Lafferty over withdrawal
Austria host Northern Ireland in UEFA Nations League, live on Sky Sports Football from 7.30pm on Friday
Last Updated: 12/10/18 6:48pm
Michael O'Neill has told Kyle Lafferty he is "no more important" than any other Northern Ireland player after the striker cited an Achilles injury for his withdrawal from the squad.
The Green and White Army face Austria in Vienna on Friday, live on Sky Sports Football from 7.30pm, in the first of two UEFA Nations League away fixtures, with a trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina next week.
O'Neill could do with Lafferty's presence, with his side having failed to score in seven of their last nine away games, including in each of the last four in a row.
But the Rangers striker is on a barren run of his own, failing to find the back of the net in each of his last 10 international appearances, with Rotherham striker Kyle Vassell in line for his first cap.
Lafferty ruled himself out of the double-header earlier this week, and when asked about the player's absence at his pre-match press conference, O'Neill said: "Kyle had an Achilles problem, we knew he had an Achilles problem in September.
"He felt that it was in his best interests that he didn't travel because it gives him the opportunity to stay off the Achilles and that's the reason for him withdrawing from the squad."
When pressed on the subject of Lafferty's international future, O'Neill added: "There's plenty of time to have that conversation later.
"Kyle is no more important than any other player we have here. At the end of the day, the player has made himself unavailable so we'll focus on the squad we have here."
Marko Arnautovic has been directly involved in six goals in his last seven games for Austria, scoring three and providing another three assists, and O'Neill has warned his players to expect a difficult contest.
O'Neill added: "He's a massive threat, capable of doing big things in the pitch. It's a good challenge for us but that's why you play international football. Hopefully he will have a quiet night tomorrow night.
"Bosnia was a game we shouldn't have lost. However, we are now on the back foot and need a result tomorrow night.
"It was great to win here as a player 24 years ago, and a similar result tomorrow night would be great."
West Ham striker Arnautovic will spearhead the Austria attack after scoring four goals in his last six games for the Hammers.
Gareth McAuley and Conor Washington are unavailable Northern Ireland, but Tom Flanagan has been recalled.
Aaron Hughes returns after being absent from last month's games against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Israel through injury.
Liam Boyce and Will Grigg will be vying for a starting berth up front along with Vassell in Lafferty's absence.
- This will be the 10th meeting between Austria and Northern Ireland. The Green and White Army have won four of those previous nine clashes (D3 L2).
- Austria's two victories against Northern Ireland have arrived in home matches, winning 2-0 in October 1982 and 2-0 in October 2005.
- Northern Ireland have won just two of their last nine matches in all competitions (D2 L5), though they did claim a victory in their most recent match versus Israel (3-0).
- Austria have won eight of their last 10 international matches in all competitions, though they've lost two of the last three.
- Striker Liam Boyce has scored just once in 14 games for Northern Ireland.
Marko Arnautovic has been great for West Ham this season and at home he's bound to give Northern Ireland problems all night long, so he could be the difference and it wouldn't surprise me if he scored both goals in this one.
CHARLIE'S PREDICTION: 2-0 (5/1 with Sky Bet)