McNair emerges as NI midfield option

25 Mar

Northern Ireland's Paddy McNair shadows Sam Vokes in Thursday's friendly in Cardiff

Paddy McNair impressed in his holding midfield role for Northern Ireland against Wales

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill says Paddy McNair’s midfield display was a big plus in his team’s 1-1 draw with Wales on Thursday.

Manchester United youngster McNair, 20, has typically been used by Louis van Gaal as a defender during his occasional outings for his club.

However, O’Neill believes midfield could be where McNair’s future lies.

“I think that’s his best position, where we played him,” said the Northern Ireland manager.

O’Neill lauds McNair physical presence

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Highlights: Wales 1-1 N Ireland

O’Neill, without injured trio Chris Brunt, Chris Baird and Corry Evans, utilised McNair in a holding berth behind skipper Steven Davis and Oliver Norwood in Cardiff as Northern Ireland extended their unbeaten run to nine games.

“I was really pleased with him,” the Northern Ireland boss said.

“He was a physical presence but he showed his quality on the ball.

“He just needs to get used to playing at this level. I enjoyed him in there in that midfield with Davis and Norwood.”

McNair has made only nine Manchester United appearances this season and five of those have been from the bench but O’Neill was delighted by the Ballyclare man’s sharpness.

“It was encouraging to see him play as well as he did for as long as he did,” added the Northern Ireland boss.

“If you look at Paddy’s games in recent weeks, they would have been development games for Manchester United, it’s a huge step up and I thought he handled it very well.”

NI boss impressed by Washington mentality

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Lafferty excited by Washington potential

McNair’s midfield audition was just one of the experiments O’Neill conducted in the first of four warm-up friendlies prior to this summer’s Euro 2016 finals.

Kent-born Conor Washington earned his first international cap having scored 15 times in 31 appearances for Peterborough earlier in the campaign prior to joining Championship club QPR.

And while he was taken off at half-time after enduring a frustrating opening 45 minutes in international football, O’Neill is confident Washington’s mentality fits in with his current group.

“He worked hard, was up against a top-class centre-back in Ashley Williams and he will get more opportunities before the summer.

“He’s got pace and is powerful and he doesn’t given defenders a minute, which we need.

“Our strength is in our collective work-rate, that comes from our midfield three. Conor fits into that mould of a player.

“He has the attributes to fit in and be a Northern Ireland player because of his desire to play, his energy, his work-rate and, as we’ve seen in club football, he’s capable of scoring.”


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