Corry Evans and Craig Cathcart named in Northern Ireland squad to face Norway
Corry Evans has been included in a Northern Ireland squad that has also been boosted by Craig Cathcart's return for the home World Cup qualifier with Norway later this month.
Midfielder Evans has not played in over two months with his ongoing groin issue but his club Blackburn are fine with his selection, while Watford defender Cathcart is available for the first time since the summer's European Championships having battled his own injury problems.
Shane Ferguson's suspension has opened the door for Oldham's Ryan McLaughlin to earn a recall but there is no place for Wigan striker Will Grigg, who has a knee problem, as Michael O'Neill's men look to strengthen their hold on second place in Group C when the Norwegians visit Windsor Park on March 26.
There are no major surprises in O'Neill's group, which is without Sunderland's Paddy McNair (knee) while injury issues for goalkeeper Trevor Carson and striker Billy Mckay (groin) prevented them from being named so 39-year-old stopper Roy Carroll is back.
McLaughlin, 22, has three caps to his credit but the former Liverpool utility man's most recent appearance came in March 2015 against Scotland.
Injuries and a lack of playing time have hampered him but he has been a regular with Sky Bet League One Oldham, where he was signed by former Northern Ireland assistant Stephen Robinson, and he now rejoins his brother Conor in O'Neill's squad.
"Ryan is in and has played consistently now this season at Oldham," the Northern Ireland boss said.
"It's the biggest run of games in his career and the reports have been good. He's played in a variety of positions so it's nice to see a young player coming back in again."
Cathcart's comeback gives O'Neill more options in defence and means he can revert to an all-Premier League back three should he desire with Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans in excellent form for West Brom.
The 28-year-old played every minute at Euro 2016 but has only featured on 12 occasions for Watford this term and missed three months with a groin problem before returning on New Year's Day.
"We've not had him for four games and we saw in the summer how important Craig is to us," added O'Neill.
"It's been a difficult season for him, he came back and had the operation early in the season and it's been a bit stop-start for him. He's certainly a player I much prefer to be in the squad than out of it."
Like Cathcart, Corry Evans was a key cog in his country's run to the knockout stages in France.
His most recent appearance for Blackburn came on January 2 but he is back in full training and will join up with his club manager's blessing.
"If anything it will be a benefit if he gets some game time and some intense training to build him up," Rovers boss Tony Mowbray said on Tuesday.
In the race to finish runners-up behind world champions Germany, Northern Ireland are ahead of Azerbaijan on goal difference and have two-point and four-point leads over Czech Republic and Norway respectively after four games.
Northern Ireland squad: M McGovern (Norwich), A Mannus (St Johnstone), R Carroll (Linfield), G McAuley, J Evans (both West Brom), A Hughes (Hearts), C Cathcart (Watford), C McLaughlin (Fleetwood), L Hodson (Rangers), T Flanagan (Burton), R McLaughlin (Oldham), C Brunt (West Brom), S Davis (Southampton), N McGinn (Aberdeen), O Norwood (Brighton), C Evans (Blackburn), J Ward (Nottingham Forest), S Dallas (Leeds), M Lund (Rochdale), P Paton (St Johnstone), K Lafferty (Norwich), J Magennis (Charlton), C Washington (QPR), L Boyce (Ross County).