Kyle Lafferty ruled out of Northern Ireland's match against Russia

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The Independent Football

Northern Ireland have been dealt a huge blow ahead of tonight's World Cup qualifier against Russia after striker Kyle Lafferty was ruled out of the match with an Achilles injury.

Lafferty, 25, is central to manager Michael O'Neill's strategy and would have been a first-choice selection had he been fit.

But he suffered an injury playing for his new club Palermo on Sunday and has not travelled to Belfast. Lafferty is the second player to withdraw from O'Neill's squad, following back-up goalkeeper Michael McGovern. Brentford striker Will Grigg, who scored twice against Sheffield United at the weekend, is considered the closest to a like-for-like replacement for Lafferty but he has just two caps and his only previous start came in a 6-0 friendly drubbing inte Netherlands.

Inverness's Billy McKay, Huddersfield's Martin Paterson and Derby's Jamie Ward are also in the squad but none of the three offers the same physical presence as Lafferty, meaning O'Neill may have to ponder a change in style.

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