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Ward and McNair return for Northern Ireland’s World Cup play-off

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NI manager Michael O’Neill is upbeat for November’s World Cup play-off

Jamie Ward and Paddy McNair are in Northern Ireland’s squad for the World Cup play-off against Switzerland.

Nottingham Forest striker Ward, 31, was unavailable for most of the qualifying campaign because of a calf injury but recently return to club duty.

McNair, 22, played 11 minutes after 11 months out for Sunderland on Saturday.

Defenders Aaron Hughes, who missed the qualifiers with Germany and Norway, and Jonny Evans – who was a doubt with a groin injury – are both included.

The first leg is on 9 November in Belfast with the return in Basel three days later.

McNair came off the bench in Sunderland’s 2-1 loss to Bristol City after an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

The former Manchester United defender has been sidelined since last November and manager Michael O’Neill admits he is unlikely to be fit enough to start either match.

“It’s important for Paddy to be involved but he will be assessed,” O’Neill said.

“I spoke to (Sunderland boss) Simon Grayson and we are optimistic he will be fine.

“For Paddy to be out has been difficult for him. It’s important he is with us. We don’t expect him to start but hope he can be involved.”

Hughes has yet to return for his club, Hearts, since withdrawing from the final Group C qualifiers against Germany and Norway but the veteran defender could feature against Kilmarnock on Sunday before linking up with his compatriots in Belfast.

“Aaron has worked hard to be fit and has done personal training sessions in Manchester,” O’Neill said.

Scunthorpe defender Rory McArdle, 30, who won the last of his seven caps in March 2014, has been recalled.

O’Neill has selected a squad of 27 for the matches at Windsor Park and St Jakob Park, with the Bradford City duo of Shay McCartan and Adam Thompson both dropping out.

Northern Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Roy Carroll (Linfield), Michael McGovern (Norwich), Alan Mannus (St. Johnstone)

Defenders: Aaron Hughes (Hearts), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Jonny Evans (West Brom), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Conor McLaughlin (Millwall), Lee Hodson (Rangers), Paddy McNair (Sunderland), Daniel Lafferty (Sheffield United), Rory McArdle (Scunthorpe), Tom Flanagan (Burton)

Midfielders: Steven Davis (Southampton), Niall McGinn (Gwangju), Oliver Norwood (Fulham), Corry Evans (Blackburn), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Paul Paton (St. Johnstone), Matthew Lund (Burton), Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock), George Saville (Millwall)

Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Hearts), Josh Magennis (Charlton), Conor Washington (QPR), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest)

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