Football: Double injury trouble for Irish

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The Independent Online
NORTHERN IRELAND have growing injury problems ahead of Saturday's opening Euro 2000 qualifier against Turkey in Istanbul, having already lost their captain, Steve Lomas, after he damaged his ankle playing for West Ham at Coventry in a Premiership fixture at the weekend.

Darren Patterson, the Dundee United centre-half, is now also unavailable, having injured his neck practising his heading in training on Saturday. The injury caused him to miss Sunday's Scottish Premier League match at Motherwell.

Lawrie McMenemy, the Northern Ireland manager, has called Queen's Park Rangers' Keith Rowland into his squad from the standby list, but Lomas's withdrawal is still likely to be felt. Iain Dowie, the QPR player-coach, is expected to be named captain in Lomas' absence.

Patterson's international career has been relaunched under McMenemy, and the former Luton Town and Crystal Palace defender was disappointed at missing out on the trip to Turkey.

"I'm absolutely gutted because things have been going so well recently," he said yesterday. "I had worked so hard to get myself back into the squad after my Achilles operation last year.

"I felt I was playing well and for the first time in a while I've been involved in the squads and I was not just there to make up the numbers.

"I had a great chance of starting in Turkey and then this comes along, which is a real nightmare. But it's only a little hiccup and I will be back soon."

The Newcastle United winger, Keith Gillespie, is training with the Northern Irish squad, and is likely to play his first match since April after completing his recovery from his ankle injury.

The Republic of Ireland may meet Northern Ireland over two legs in the near future, with all the proceeds going to the victims of the Omagh bombing tragedy.

The Football Association of Ireland confirmed yesterday that it had been in contact with its Northern Ireland counterpart, the Irish Football Association, about staging the games in Belfast and Dublin. The matches are likely to take place in November and February.

The England Under-21 side have been affected by injuries ahead of Friday's opening European Championship qualifier against Sweden in Sundsvall. The Sunderland pair of Michael Bridges and Darren Williams have both withdrawn from the squad because of ankle and groin injuries respectively.