Paddy McNair may have a key role in Northern Ireland’s midfield at Euro 2016 after the Manchester United youngster earned his international manager’s praise for his performance against Wales.
Michael O’Neill, shorn of injured trio Chris Brunt, Chris Baird and Corry Evans, utilised 20-year-old McNair in a holding berth behind skipper Steven Davis and Oliver Norwood for the 1-1 draw in Cardiff when Northern Ireland extended their unbeaten run to nine games.
McNair’s performance was one of the highlights of the night and he had a part to play in the goal that saw the visitors go ahead on the hour mark through Craig Cathcart’s finish on the turn.
Five of McNair’s nine outings for his club this term have been from the bench and United boss Louis van Gaal has typically selected him in defence, but O’Neill insists he is better placed working in front of the last line.
“I was really pleased with him,” the Northern Ireland boss said.
“He’s just 20, not played a lot of first-team football with Manchester United and typically when he plays for Manchester United he plays at centre-back or sometimes as a full-back but I think that’s his best position, where we played him.
“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’s midfield audition was just one of the experiments O’Neill conducted in the first of four warm-up friendlies prior to the main event in France this summer.
“It was encouraging to see Paddy play as well as he did for as long as he did,” O’Neill added.
“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.”
O’Neill admitted he was satisfied with Thursday’s friendly.
The stalemate extended Northern Ireland’s unbeaten run to nine matches.
“It would have been nice to win but we were able to give 17 players some game time and experiment with a couple of different systems,” he said.
“We have very limited opportunities to look at systems but the players adapted to both well.