Feeney fights for fitness to face Czechs

Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington is hoping striker Warren Feeney can build up his fitness and take some part in the World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic on 14 October.

Feeney has yet to play a match this season after returning to Cardiff from a loan spell at Dundee United for treatment on a hip injury.

However, Worthington has drafted in the 28-year-old as Northern Ireland are down on numbers in attack for the match in Prague.

Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty is included even though he is still struggling with a knee problem. Burnley's Martin Paterson (knee) and Sheffield United's Jamie Ward (hamstring) are already sidelined through injury.

Feeney scored twice in successive victories against Poland and Slovenia at the end of last season and Worthington said: "Warren is keen to be involved again. He is back in training but not had a game so far, so he is well short of match fitness. Hopefully he will improve his fitness over the next couple of weeks and maybe get in a reserve game.

"We have lost Paterson and Ward while Lafferty is not right yet, so Warren might be involved."

Celtic midfielder Pat McCourt has been recalled following a spell of good form that has seen him score twice for his club in the past week. He followed his goal against Falkirk in the Co-operative Cup by finding the target in the win over St Mirren at the weekend.

Worthington said: "Pat has had a very good week and it sends out a message to other players they can get in the group if they are playing well.

"Pat with the ball is a good player but without the ball he needs to improve. I have told him that."

Northern Ireland need a victory in Prague if they are to have any hope of making the play-offs. The home defeat by Slovakia – after a draw was secured against Poland – was highly damaging and it later emerged that a group of players had broken a curfew and been fined by the Irish Football Association.

Supporters expressed their outrage on websites about what they saw as a lack of professionalism ahead of the province's biggest game in 23 years. However the subject was off-limits when the squad was announced today. Worthington believes they are beginning to suffer because so few players are getting regular first-team games.

He said: "With about 15 players in the group not starting at their clubs there is a severe lack of match fitness, which can hinder us. But we have to get on with it as best we can."

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