Northern Ireland: How bad have their injury problems been?

Euro 2024 qualifier: Slovenia v Northern Ireland

Date: Thursday, 7 September Kick-off: 19:45 BST Venue: Stozice Stadium, Ljubljana

Coverage: Listen live on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio Ulster; live text and report on BBC Sport website; highlights on BBC One Northern Ireland & BBC iPlayer on Thursday at 22:40 BST

If Michael O'Neill didn't have bad luck then he would have no luck at all.

After a much-heralded return as Northern Ireland manager for the Euro 2024 qualifiers, O'Neill's plans have been hit by injury after injury to key players.

Over the opening four qualifiers, and the two to come on in Slovenia and Kazakhstan on Thursday and Sunday, just how bad has it been?

Very, to be blunt. But let's take a more detailed look at who has been missing.

Steven Davis (38, midfielder, 140 caps) Matches missed: San Marino (A), Finland (H), Denmark (A), Kazakhstan (H), Slovenia (A), Kazakhstan (H)

Northern Ireland's captain fantastic sustained a serious knee injury at Rangers in December 2022, just a few weeks after O'Neill's return was confirmed. Davis has been his country's most important player for more than a decade now and, despite being 38, his return is still eagerly anticipated. You can't replace his experience and class.

Stuart Dallas (32, defender/midfielder, 62 caps) Matches missed: San Marino (A), Finland (H), Denmark (A), Kazakhstan (H), Slovenia (A), Kazakhstan (H)

It's hard to overstate just how much both Northern Ireland and Leeds United have missed Stuart Dallas over the past 16 months. He last played in April 2022 after breaking his leg, and while he was originally targeting a return in June, it turns out the games in September have come too soon. When he finally returns, it may take him some time to emulate his all-action displays given the severity of his injury.

Jonny Evans (35, defender, 102 caps) Matches missed: San Marino (A), Finland (H)

Jonny Evans is another player who has not had it easy of late and his 2022-23 season was plagued by injuries. Despite persistent niggles, he still has turned out for his country but was forced out of the squad for the opening two qualifiers after failing to recover from a hamstring injury. Now back at Manchester United, he will captain the side against Slovenia and Kazakhstan in Davis' absence.

Corry Evans (33, midfielder, 69 caps) Matches missed: San Marino (A), Finland (H), Denmark (A), Kazakhstan (H), Slovenia (A), Kazakhstan (H)

Much like his older brother, injuries have hit Corry Evans more than most. After bouncing back from a freak injury which shattered his eye socket, Evans sustained an ACL injury in January and is unlikely to feature in any of the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign. In fact, his Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray has hinted we might not see the midfielder until after the new year.

Conor Bradley (20, defender, 13 caps) Matches missed: Kazakhstan (H), Slovenia (A), Kazakhstan (H)

Flying right-back Conor Bradley has been a real bright spark since bursting onto the scene. However, he was forced to miss June's game against Kazakhstan after picking up a knock in the defeat by Denmark. He came back and impressed in Liverpool's pre-season matches, but then sustained a back injury which will keep him out for an extended period. It is a real shame as he looked to establish himself as Trent Alexander-Arnold's back up at Liverpool and was a nailed-on starter for O'Neill despite his youth.

Dan Ballard (23, defender, 18 caps) Matches missed: Denmark (A), Kazakhstan (H) Doubtful: Slovenia (A), Kazakhstan (H)

Sunderland defender Dan Ballard has shifted from being Jonny Evans' and Craig Cathcart's understudy to one of the first names on the team sheet. However, he has been spending a lot of time on the treatment table and, after being forced off against Finland, sat out June's matches. He is also a doubt for Slovenia on Thursday, which would be a further blow to O'Neill.

Josh Magennis (33, striker, 71 caps) Matches missed: Denmark (A), Kazakhstan (H)

Fan favourite Josh Magennis rarely misses a game for Northern Ireland, but he was forced to sit out June's double-header with a knee injury. Back fit again and back in the goals for Wigan, his return is a big boost for O'Neill and adds to a forward line that has been battered by fitness concerns.

Shayne Lavery (23, striker, 19 caps) Matches missed: San Marino (A), Finland (H), Slovenia (A), Kazakhstan (H)

After a bright start to the season, this was meant to be the time for Shayne Lavery to shine. However, a hamstring problem picked up on the eve of international duty has put him on the sidelines for September's matches. He also missed the opening two qualifiers with a similar issue.

Conor Washington (31, striker, 37 caps) Matches missed: Denmark (A), Kazakhstan (H)

Another striker. With his relentless work ethic, it is actually surprising that he does not pick up more niggles. A knee injury forced him out of June's qualifiers, but he is back in the squad after moving to Derby County from Rotherham in the summer.

Dale Taylor (19, striker, three caps) Matches missed: Slovenia (A), Kazakhstan (H)

While not a starter, young forward Taylor has been finding the net while on loan at Burton but, like Lavery, was forced pull of the squad last week. Tipped as a star, Taylor has impressed in his cameos off the bench for Northern Ireland, so his absence will be felt.

Ali McCann (23, midfielder, 18 caps) Matches missed: San Marino (A), Finland (H)

Preston midfielder Ali McCann has become a regular for Northern Ireland but he missed the opening two matches with a thigh injury. He was back for June's qualifiers and will be in contention to start in Slovenia.

Jamal Lewis (25, defender, 30 caps) Matches missed: Denmark (A), Kazakhstan (H), Slovenia (A), Kazakhstan (H)

It has not been an easy year for Jamal Lewis, who found himself on the fringes at Newcastle and has struggled with injury. Was forced out of June's double-header with a knee injury and, after securing a loan move to Watford, will miss the two games against Slovenia and Kazakhstan too.

Shane Ferguson (32, defender, 57 caps) Matches missed: Denmark (A), Kazakhstan (H), Slovenia (A), Kazakhstan (H)

Another long-term absentee who would have been guaranteed minutes in some shape or form if fit. Ferguson missing after undergoing surgery on a hernia injury at the end of last season. His absence is compounded by Lewis' injury problems, which means O'Neill has been without his first and second-choice left-backs.

Conor McMenamin (28, midfielder, six caps) Matches missed: San Marino (A), Finland (H)

Northern Ireland fans often connect with Irish League stars. Conor McMenamin is one of those, and he has impressed stepping up to the international stage after first being called up while at Glentoran. He missed the San Marino and Finland games with a calf problem but is back in the squad. McMenamin has also made a bright start with St Mirren after moving to Scotland from Glentoran in the summer.

On top of the senior players mentioned, Bolton Wanderers defender Eoin Toal was forced out of June's squad with an injury, while Nottingham Forest's Aaron Donnelly, who was named in June, will be out for a while after damaging ankle ligaments which cut short his loan spell at Dundee.