Football: N Ireland banking on McCarthy

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Port Vale's Jon McCarthy will be given a key role for Northern Ireland when they meet Armenia in a World Cup Group Four qualifier in Yerevan tonight.

Bryan Hamilton intends using him wide on the right as a replacement for the suspended Keith Gillespie. The Northern Ireland manager said: "The loss of Gillespie and Michael Hughes is a major problem for us. McCarthy however has experience of this position and he should fit in perfectly to our plan."

Manchester City's Kevin Horlock will come in for West Ham's Hughes on the left, but Hamilton is unable to name his team until noon today. Seven of the original squad withdrew because of injury and four in the current 20-strong squad are under treatment for minor knocks.

Manchester City's promising midfielder Jeff Whitley has an ankle ligament strain picked up a week ago and may be ruled out. The Zambian-born player had an appearance as a substitute in the friendly with Belgium in February, but he has yet to make his competitive debut which would rule out any other claims on him.

Hamilton will adopt a 4-4-2 system in front of Alan Fettis, the Nottingham Forest reserve goalkeeper who comes in for Tommy Wright. The back four will be built around Leicester's Colin Hill and Bolton's Gerry Taggart, a contender for the captaincy.

West Ham's Iain Dowie, one short of equalling the 13-goal Irish scoring record, and James Quinn of Blackpool will lead the attack.

Northern Ireland's hopes of qualifying are minimal. Armenia held them to a 0-0 draw in Belfast, and that plus the home defeat by Ukraine was a disastrous start from which Hamilton's team have not recovered.

Group Nine

P W D L F A Pts

Ukraine 5 4 0 1 6 3 12

Portugal 6 2 3 1 5 2 9

Germany 4 2 2 0 9 4 8

Northern Ireland 6 1 3 2 5 5 6

Armenia 4 0 3 1 3 7 3

Albania 5 0 1 4 2 10 1

Remaining fixtures: Today: Germany v Ukraine; Armenia v Northern Ireland. 7 May: Ukraine v Armenia. 7 June: Ukraine v Armenia; Portugal v Albania. 20 Aug: Northern Ireland v Germany; Portugal v Armenia; Ukraine v Albania. 6 Sept: Germany v Portugal; Armenia v Albania. 10 Sept: Albania v Northern Ireland; Germany v Armenia. 11 Oct: Germany v Albania; Portugal v Northern Ireland; Armenia v Ukraine.