PADDY McNAIR is set to end an 11-month injury nightmare this evening, but Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill does not expect the Sunderland midfielder to be fit enough to feature in next month’s World Cup play-offs.

McNair has been sidelined since damaging his cruciate knee ligaments last November, but is set to feature in the Black Cats’ Premier League International Cup game with Hertha Berlin tonight.

Sunderland’s development team take on their German opponents at the Stadium of Light, and McNair has been pencilled in for a run-out. The versatile midfielder is unlikely to play the whole of the game, but a 45-minute appearance would still represent some significant progress as he attempts to build up his match sharpness.

It took Duncan Watmore around three weeks to progress from his first appearance with the Under-23s to a return to the first-team fold, and Sunderland will be similarly cautious with McNair given that his recovery has already been interrupted once because of a setback.

Simon Grayson is understandably keen to have McNair back in his squad, and Northern Ireland boss O’Neill has also been forced to make do without the midfielder in the last few months.

Despite suffering a 1-0 defeat to Norway earlier this week, Northern Ireland are guaranteed a place in next month’s play-offs having finished second to Germany in their World Cup qualifying group.

O’Neill is hoping to guide his side to a second successive major tournament, with Northern Ireland having made it out of their group at Euro 2016, but while he is pleased to see McNair back in action, he does not expect to have him in his squad for the play-offs.

“This team is punching above its weight massively, and it has done for a considerable amount of time,” said O’Neill. “It would be nice to have one or two of the players we’re missing back. We will hopefully have Jamie Ward back for the play-off, but it’s unlikely that we’ll have McNair or (Craig) Cathcart back.”

While Northern Ireland’s World Cup hopes remain in the balance, Sunderland defender Bryan Oviedo was part of the Costa Rica side that booked their place in Russia in dramatic circumstances on Sunday night.

Facing Honduras in a game that was delayed by 24 hours because of tropical storm Nate, Costa Rica looked in trouble when Eddie Hernandez fired their opponents ahead in the second half.

However, with a draw being good enough to guarantee Costa Rica’s qualification, Kendall Watson scored a 95th-minute equaliser to spark euphoric scenes amongst his team-mates.

Oviedo has remained with the Costa Rica squad, and is expected to be involved in his side’s final qualifier against Panama tomorrow.

There was not such good news for Sunderland midfielder Didier Ndong, with Gabon’s 3-0 defeat to Morocco ensuring they will not be involved in next summer’s finals. Ndong played the full 90 minutes as Khalid Boutaib’s hat-trick set up a shoot-out between Morocco and Lamine Kone’s Ivory Coast team next month for a World Cup place.