Paddy McNair drew rave reviews from Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill after his brace powered the Green and White Army to a 3-2 friendly win over the Czech Republic in Prague.
McNair looked like a seasoned goalscorer – rather than a man scoring his second and third international goals on his 32nd appearance – as he struck either side of Jonny Evans’ goal at the Generali Arena.
McNair’s first goal was a well-taken finish into the corner from a Liam Boyce cross, and the second a powerful run from midfield as he latched on to a pass from Steven Davis and rounded the goalkeeper.
“He had an excellent game,” O’Neill said. “Two goals, strong running from midfield, it was a great finish for the first one and the second one shows his power, pace and composure.”
The goals came during a dominant first-half from Northern Ireland, but they were hanging on at the end after two goals in two minutes from Vladimir Darida and Alex Kral put the hosts right back in it.
However, they hung on to get a result which eases some of the pain from Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualifying loss to Holland in Rotterdam.
McNair, who was excellent in that 3-1 defeat too, admitted he needed to add more goals to his game and was delighted to get the job started here.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “That’s 30-odd caps and three goals but someone was saying to me the other day I should probably have a few more goals so it’s nice to have two more now.
“I think the performance was fantastic tonight and the first 25 or 30 minutes, we blew them away and definitely came away with what we deserved.
“The first goal got us off to a great start. It came at me quite fast and I just snatched at it in a way and I was lucky enough to get it into the bottom corner.
“The second one, I had a lot of time to think about. I think I ran from the halfway line and I was just waiting for the keeper to commit himself, and he did, so I took it around him and put it in the back of the net.”
McNair has emerged as a key player in O’Neill’s side, and the manager said the 24-year-old Middlesbrough man has all the attributes to play at a higher level.
“He’s still a relatively young player,” he said. “He is possibly now where he should have been two years ago if it wasn’t for injury.
“He had a serious injury at Sunderland and it took him longer to get back than possibly he would have liked.
“He’s had a difficult season last season at Middlesbrough where he wasn’t an automatic player but this season that has changed, his club situation has changed and we’re seeing the benefit of that.
“I think we played a big part in the turn around of his fortunes at club level because he was still an important player for us but I’m delighted because he’s a great boy, a great athletic player, a top player.
“When you look at what is required now to play at the highest level, whether it be the Premier League or international football, Paddy has all the attributes to do that.”