MICHAEL O’NEILL has tipped Paddy McNair to re-establish himself in the Premier League, and claimed a continued presence in the Northern Ireland team helped the midfielder transform his club career at Middlesbrough.

McNair scored twice on Monday night as Northern Ireland claimed a 3-2 friendly win over the Czech Republic in Prague, achieving a victory that had eluded England in the same stadium three days earlier.

The 24-year-old has endured a difficult few years since leaving Manchester United, where he started his career as a trainee, with a series of injuries blighting his time at Sunderland, which ended with the Black Cats’ relegation to League One.

McNair joined Middlesbrough a year-and-a-half ago, but his first season on Teesside did not go to plan, with Tony Pulis tending to either keep him on the substitutes’ bench or use him as an auxiliary defender.

Jonathan Woodgate’s promotion to the role of head coach has helped transform McNair’s fortunes, with the new Boro boss selecting him in all 11 league games and restoring him to his preferred position in attacking midfield.

He has consistently been Boro’s best performer this season, and O’Neill sees no reason why he cannot scale even greater heights in the future by starring in the Premier League.

“He’s still a relatively young player, and he is possibly now where he should have been two years ago if it wasn't for injury,” said the Northern Ireland manager, whose side face crucial matches against Holland and Germany in the final two rounds of Euro 2020 qualifiers next month. “He had a serious injury at Sunderland and it took him longer to get back then 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 bit part in the turnaround 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.”

McNair has scored domestic goals against Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday this season, and has been challenged by Woodgate to improve his record in the final third.

Monday’s brace showcased him at his best, with his first goal coming courtesy of a perfectly-timed charge in the box and his second arriving as he outsprinted both Josef Husbauer and Ondrej Kudela before rounding goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka to slot home.

“He had an excellent game,” said O’Neill. “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.”

McNair will return to training at Boro’s Rockliffe Park headquarters later today, giving him plenty of time to reacclimatise ahead of Saturday’s crunch home game with West Brom.