Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Latvia: Paddy McNair returns to squad with Manchester United's blessing but he won't play at Windsor

By Stuart McKinley

Paddy McNair has joined the Northern Ireland squad, four weeks after suffering liver damage in the final Euro 2016 qualifier.

The Manchester United defender is, however, expected to watch Friday night's friendly with Latvia at Windsor Park from the sidelines.

An agreement has been reached between Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and Manchester United for McNair - who wasn't included in the original squad when it was named last week - to train, but not play in the match.

West Bromwich Albion's Chris Brunt, however, is out of Friday night's game.

He suffered groin problems during the Baggies 2-0 defeat at Manchster United last Saturday and he has stayed at his club for treatment in the hope that he will be fit for their next Premier League game, which is another big one, against Arsenal on Saturday week.

McNair (20) hasn't figured at all for United since he was injured in the first half of Northern Ireland's 1-1 draw with Finland last month.

He spent three nights in hospital in Helsinki with a ruptured liver and was given permission to return to Ballyclare to spend some time with his family while he recovered.

"Paddy has joined the squad. He won't take part in the game," explained manager Michael O'Neill.

"He is with us for the week and he will take part in training, but at Manchester United's request we won't risk him in the game."

McNair's absence is likely to mean that Fleetwood Town's Conor McLaughlin, who had started all of the first eight Euro 2016 qualifiers before a third yellow card of the campaign against Hungary ruled him out of the decisive game at home to Greece, will be handed a return to the starting line up.

Shane Ferguson is expected to fill the space left by Brunt's withdrawal at left-back.

There may also be an opportunity for fringe players whose appearances during the Euro 2016 campaign were limited.

Paddy McCourt could come into the midfield, while up front Billy McKay, Will Grigg and Liam Boyce will be hoping for a chance to impress before O'Neill considers his options for the final 23-man squad that he will take to France for the finals.

"There is possibly an opportunity to look at some things, opportunity to look at a change of system," said O'Neill.

"We don't have that many games between now and the finals so we've got to think about our preparation and maximising what we get out of it.

"I will look at certain things, but it's early in the week and I will see how the boys go between now and Friday.

"We want to keep the momentum we have built up and also use this game as an opportunity to get something out of it for the whole squad in terms of game-time.

"It's about getting that balance right.

"It's not a case of handing caps out unnecessarily just to give players a chance. They have to earn that chance."

Latvia failed to win any of their 10 Euro 2016 qualifiers, but they did draw away to both the Czech Republic and Iceland, who were the two automatic qualifiers from Group A - as well as twice drawing with third-placed Turkey.

"I am expecting a stern test against Latvia - they finished joint bottom of their qualifying group but had some decent results in their closing matches," said O'Neill.

Belfast Telegraph