Sheffield United: How Chris Wilder will attempt to ensure one striker's loss is another centre-forward's gain as international row gets serious
It involves Rangers, a supposedly injured centre-forward and officials acting on behalf of the Irish Football Association.
But Chris Wilder is likely to be quietlyÂ encouraged by developments surrounding Kyle Lafferty, who it last night emerged has been blocked from representing Steven Gerrard's side this weekend after withdrawing from international duty.
At first glance, the spat between Lafferty and Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has nothing to do with either Wilder, his Sheffield United team or their preparations for Saturday's visit to Derby County. However, given that Conor Washington is likely to step into the breach if Lafferty is declared persona non grata by the IFA, Wilder will be keen to remind the 26-year-old that performing well for his club could also help him cement a place in his country's starting eleven.Â
With O'Neill attributing a lack of firepower to his squad's struggles in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, Washington would be almost certain to start next month's game against the Republic of Ireland and Austria if he impresses for United.
Wilder, who despite cultivating a down-to-earth image boasts an acute understanding of how to motivate players, is unlikely to pass up the opportunity to remind Washington that Lafferty's loss could, providing he impresses in the meantime, be his gain.
Washington has yet to score for United since arriving from Queens Park Rangers two months ago. But after also missing Northern Ireland's defeats by the Austrians and Bosnia-Herzegovina - unlike Lafferty, with O'Neill's permission - he travels to Pride Park relaxed, refreshed and with no shortage of incentives.
Although Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick are expected to again spearhead United's attack when they look to consolidate their position at the top of the Championship, Wilder has made no secret of the fact that Washington's skill set will lead to opportunities.
"Conor is strong and powerful but he's also got pace," Wilder said, before the victory over Hull City nearly two weeks ago. "He's got that ability to stretch defences and that's a valuable asset to have. The good thing (with the strikers) is that they all bring something a little different to the table with them."
Lafferty started Northern Ireland's last competitive fixture, against the Bosnians in September, and had been expected to feature against both them and Franco Foda's side before informing O'Neill an Achilles injury meant he was unable to attend training in Belfast. The timing of his decision - O'Neill claimed he received a telephone call at midnight, only hours before his squad were due to meet-up - infuriated both the former Newcastle midfielder and his paymasters at the IFA. They have responded by invoking FIFA's 'Five Day' ruling, which prevents Lafferty from playing for Rangers until Monday.
Washington is known to have consulted with O'Neill long before he finalised his plans for Northern Ireland's recent group ties, before being granted leave of absence due to personal reasons.
Although both United and the player himself have not elaborated on exactly what those are, Wilder and O'Neill anticipate he will be involved against eighth-placed County, who have not been beaten on home soil since August 11.