O'Neill plays down Lafferty and Cathcart injury scares


Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has allayed injury concerns over Kyle Lafferty and Craig Cathcart after both players were substituted in Saturday's 0-0 draw with Slovakia.

Cathcart was withdrawn in the first half, with Aaron Hughes coming on to collect his landmark 100th cap, while Lafferty was replaced early in the second period after collecting a knock.

But O'Neill - who was unimpressed by some of Slovakia's challenges - revealed both players were taken off only as a precaution, as Northern Ireland extended their record unbeaten run to 12 matches.

"They're both fine. It was precautionary," O'Neill said of Lafferty's calf injury and Cathcart's back problem.

"Cathcart got a bad challenge, I thought. Obviously it was let go, like many.

"Kyle just had a little bit of a tight calf from a kick. We had planned to take off Kyle on 60-65 minutes. He wanted to stay on but there was no sense in it, and the same with Craig. If it was the Poland game in that situation and we needed them, they wouldn't have come off.

"They [Slovakia] are playing at home, the stadium's full and off the back of [the 3-1 win over] Germany, I'm sure they wanted to give the supporters a send-off and win the game.

"I felt that some of the challenges under normal circumstances would have been punished with a yellow card but weren't. I thought the referee was lenient in favour of the home side at times. That's understandable."

Slovakia head coach Jan Kozak, meanwhile, was pleased with his side's progress as they prepare to open their maiden European Championship campaign against Wales next Saturday.

"They [Germany and Northern Ireland] were two different matches, obviously," he said.

"We play there in different positions - home and away - in both matches we had to be cautious, especially in the defence.

"Nevertheless, I believe our players are very dominant, they are able to play and I hope they will show this in Euro 2016."