NEIL WARNOCK fears he will be unable to start Paddy McNair in Middlesbrough’s Championship game with Norwich City tomorrow because the defender was asked to play in all three of Northern Ireland’s internationals even though his national side had already been relegated in the Nations League.

McNair started the international break by playing for 104 minutes of Northern Ireland’s European Championships play-off final with Slovakia, a game that saw Ian Barraclough’s side miss out on a place at next summer’s finals.

The Boro centre-half then lined up in Sunday’s Nations League game in Austria, with a 2-1 defeat condemning Northern Ireland to relegation once UEFA ruled on the outcome of Norway’s postponed game with Romania.

However, even though his team had already been relegated, Barraclough still selected McNair for Wednesday’s dead rubber with Romania, a game that resulted in a 1-1 draw at Windsor Park.

Warnock had expressed fears about McNair and George Saville’s potential workload before the pair left for international duty, and is clearly furious that the former was asked to play in all three matches, with the first having gone to extra-time.

McNair will be assessed ahead of this morning’s training session at Rockliffe Park, but with another home game against Derby County coming up next Wednesday, Warnock will be understandably reluctant to ask too much of the 25-year-old, who has arguably been Boro’s most important performer this season.

“Paddy has played three of the toughest games you could wish for,” said the Boro boss. “The (Euro 2020) play-off final and then two bloody friendlies in this Nations League. He’s played every minute (excluding the end of extra-time against Slovakia), so I don’t understand when you’ve got nothing to play for how him and (Stuart) Dallas can play every minute of every game.

“There’s something wrong where you can’t bring a young lad in to the side when you’ve got nothing to play for. You’ve got to think of the players. We helped them by keeping him off training ahead of the first game, and they were unlucky as they should have got to the Euros. After that though, yeah okay, play him in one of the games, but not two. I can’t accept that – not when there’s nothing to play for.”

Warnock’s defensive options will increase with the return of Grant Hall, with the centre-half having used the international break as a ‘mini pre-season’ following his recovery from a hamstring injury. Hall has been absent since hobbling off in September’s 1-1 draw at his former club QPR.