Sheffield United: Conor Washington edges closer to a starring role as Oliver Norwood prepares to lay everything on the line

Sheffield United and Northern Ireland striker Conor Washington
Sheffield United and Northern Ireland striker Conor Washington

Sheffield United centre-forward Conor Washington could be tasked with spearheading Northern Ireland's UEFA Nations League campaign when he returns to international duty later this year.

Washington was granted permission to miss his country's latest round of fixtures, starting with tomorrow’s visit to Austria, following talks with Michael O'Neill citing personal circumstances.

But O'Neill and Washington's compatriot Kyle Lafferty are destined for showdown talks after the Rangers striker withdrew from the meeting with both Franco Foda's side and next week's clash with Bosnia-Herzegovina. O'Neill has promised to "address the situation" following his team's appearance in the Ernst Happel Stadium, where United midfielder Oliver Norwood is expected to feature.

Sources close to the 49-year-old report he would have preferred to receive formal notification from Ibrox about the Achilles problem Lafferty says forced his decision or for the IFA's own medical staff to assess the injury. 

Rotherham's Kyle Vassell has been called-up as a replacement but Washington's greater experience could see him start next month's return fixture with Austria if O'Neill and Lafferty find themselves at loggerheads.

An impressive but dreadfully profligate display condemned O'Neill's men to defeat in their opening group encounter, with Bosnia-Herzegovina emerging victorious despite spending most of the game on the back foot.

Sheffield United midfielder Oliver Norwood

Sheffield United midfielder Oliver Norwood

Norwood has acknowledged that finishing bottom of B3 could have serious repercussions for his country, with Nations League results now being used to influence the Euro 2020 qualifying draw.

"There are fresh faces in the squad again, fresh input, and as a group of players we see it as another good opportunity to move it forward," he said. "We don't want to be relegated into the pot below because that can then affect the Euro draw, we can end up as a pot three team and that will hinder us for the draw.

"We want to stay in the second pot and to do that we've got to win one of the next two games."

"Michael spoke about how before we sat back in games and hoped we would nick something," Norwood continued. "So he said let's try and take the initiative and drive it forward.

Oliver Norwood in action for Northern Ireland

Oliver Norwood in action for Northern Ireland

"We've got a good group of players playing at a good level, we've got good legs in the team, good physicality about us, players who can run and that's a big thing in the way he wants to play and we've seen in the last two games it's something we can do."