sport

Cyprus v N Ireland preview

Northern Ireland are hopeful of ending an embarrassing drought in away friendlies when they take on Cyprus on Wednesday night, with manager Michael O'Neill calling on his side to make every goal count.

Amazingly, Northern Ireland have drawn a blank in their last nine friendles on the road - with that number rising to 11 when you include Carling Nations Cup defeats against the Republic of Ireland and Wales.

Indeed, their last away goal outside of qualification came in Finland in 2006, with a teenage Kyle Lafferty grabbing the winner in a 2-1 success.

A trip to Nicosia to face a side ranked 122nd in the world presents a wonderful chance to put an end that sequence, but O'Neill knows his side are never going to be a free-scoring outfit and must learn to edge close games when Euro 2016 qualifying begins later this year.

"We'll pick a team with a lot of attacking options against Cyprus and we want to see that bear fruit," O'Neill said.

"We want to see the team play on the front foot with a smile on their faces. You would obviously like to come away from home and score goals on a regular basis but that's just not Northern Ireland and it never has been.

"The only people who can change that are these players, but we have to accept where we are. We're not a nation who are going to score a huge number of goals and we never have been.

"But if you look at the statistics (from World Cup qualification) one of the most interesting for me was that Greece won eight games and only scored 12 goals.

"We have to look at how countries like that progress and qualify for tournaments."

Lafferty returns to the squad after a self-induced six-month exile, however, Kilmarnock midfielder Sammy Clingan is out of the Cyprus game because of a knee injury.

The 30-year-old was forced off in the first half of Kilmarnock's defeat by St Mirren on Saturday.

O'Neill has handed a first call-up to Dundee United's uncapped Paul Paton as Clingan's replacement.

Scotland-born Paton, 26, is eligible for Northern Ireland under the parentage rule.