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Paddy McNair keen to make up for missed chance against Italy and kick-start Northern Ireland's World Cup dream

Paddy is eager to make Bulgaria pay for one that got away in Italian loss


Honest appraisal: Paddy McNair admits he should have found the net in Italy

Honest appraisal: Paddy McNair admits he should have found the net in Italy

William Cherry/Presseye

Honest appraisal: Paddy McNair admits he should have found the net in Italy

Bulgaria beware - Paddy McNair is itching to have another chance on goal tomorrow night to put right his miss against Italy last week.

McNair was honest enough to admit that he ought to have hit the net late on in Parma when captain Steven Davis sent an inviting delivery across the box only for the Middlesbrough ace to fire over the bar. Normally the 25-year-old is superb in those positions, but this time it wasn't to be as Northern Ireland went down 2-0 in their opening Group C clash.

The farmer's son from Ballyclare, now one of the first names on the team sheet for his country, has scored in a Euro qualifier, the Nations League and in a friendly. How the ex-Manchester United star would love to add World Cup qualifier to the list.

"The chance in Italy is one I really should have scored. It's what I've done all my life growing up playing for Ballyclare in the under-age groups and Manchester United. I've always been a box-to-box midfielder and getting in the box," said McNair.

"It's one of those; sometimes you take your chances and sometimes you don't. Hopefully on Wednesday night, if I get another one, I will put it away."

It will be fascinating to see where McNair plays against Bulgaria. In Italy, he was part of a back three alongside Craig Cathcart and Jonny Evans, though his power from midfield has proved to be a huge asset in the past.

He says: "I'm happy to play anywhere. I do enjoy the right side of centre midfield, that's where I've played most of my games.

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"The Italy game was the first time I've played centre-back for Northern Ireland. Earlier on in my career, it frustrated me when I was moving around a lot but now I honestly don't mind at all. I'm happy to do so.

"I enjoy playing in a 3-5-2. I've played it a lot at club level. When you play a back five, it's crucial that the wing-backs push on. The Italy game was a perfect example of that. In the first half, we were in a back five and it was too easy for them to go from side to side.

"But in the second half, I felt we pushed up a lot more. Sav (George Saville) was pushing on to their full-back, which got us up the pitch, and I was then going in on a midfielder, and that's the way to play it.

"It helps, especially away from home, having two lads up front to cause problems, and that definitely did cause problems. There were chances that we should have taken."

McNair was instrumental in Northern Ireland's last victory in normal time - scoring twice in a 3-2 friendly success in the Czech Republic in October 2019 - and, asked if the lack of wins lately had an impact on morale, said: "It's not nice not winning games, especially with what we were used to over the previous four or five years.

"Wednesday is a great opportunity to put that right. Going back to the Italy game, if we can get the same performance we got in the second half, that should stand us in good stead, and if we can take a chance early on, it would make a massive difference."

A win tomorrow would kick-start Northern Ireland's hopes of enjoying a positive qualifying campaign and keep alive their chances of even making it through to the World Cup finals.

"It would be a dream come true," said McNair. "Growing up as a kid, you watch the World Cup and it would be unbelievable to get there.

"The Euros were unbelievable but the World Cup would go one step further. I don't think words could describe how good that would be.

"I've loved my international career so far but in the last 18 months or two years we haven't won as many games as we would have liked so hopefully on Wednesday we can get back on a winning run."

In Ian Baraclough's tenure as boss, the team have tended to make slow starts. McNair says: "We have to start with high intensity; we can't start how we did against Italy.

"The first goal is massive and I just feel in home games in the past we've started well and not let the opposition play out from the back. If we can do that and put Bulgaria under pressure from the start, it will definitely help us win the game.

"We just need to believe in ourselves. This is a must-win if we are going to stamp our authority on this group."

While McNair is fast approaching 50 caps, tomorrow captain Davis will make his 126th international appearance, becoming British football's most capped player.

"Ever since I came into the squad six years ago, Davo has been great to me," beamed McNair.

"Every day in training he is one of the best players, and 126 caps is unbelievable. He really deserves the record and the whole squad and whole country is really happy for him. I said to him he was going to go on and make 150 caps, so fingers crossed he does."

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