Saturday 21 July 2018

Ward and Hughes set to be included in Northern Ireland squad

Jamie Ward has missed Northern Ireland's previous five fixtures
Jamie Ward has missed Northern Ireland's previous five fixtures

Jamie Ward and Aaron Hughes look set to be included in Northern Ireland's squad to face Switzerland in the play-offs, while Michael O'Neill has a dilemma over Paddy McNair.

Striker Ward has missed half of his country's World Cup qualification campaign with a calf problem, but has returned to make two appearances off the bench for Nottingham Forest this month.

Hughes, 37, joined up with Northern Ireland for the qualifiers with Germany and Norway earlier this month only to pull out with a calf issue that has prevented him from featuring for Hearts since too.

Originally thought to be a doubt to make the double header with the Swiss, Hughes could be back to face Kilmarnock next weekend and O'Neill will be inclined to include him even if he does not play there given his vast experience.

Hughes has 108 international appearances to his credit and will surpass Bobby Moore as the home nations' most capped defender ever when he next features for Northern Ireland.

The decision over whether to recall McNair is a more difficult one given he has only just come back from an 11 month lay-off.

The 22-year-old midfielder suffered a knee injury last November and made his senior return for Sunderland off the bench on Saturday with 11 minutes to go.

Sunderland have another two fixtures before O'Neill's squad meet up in Belfast, but the Northern Irish manager is mindful that McNair is only just back from such a long spell on the sidelines.

However, given the prize at stake over the two legs is a place in next year's World Cup finals - and McNair has the versatility to play in defence or midfield - he could be one of those named in O'Neill's squad on Monday afternoon.

Northern Ireland host Switzerland at Windsor Park on November 9 before the two meet again in the return leg in Basel three days later.

Press Association

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