NORTHERN Ireland manager Sammy McIlroy is hoping to have fit-again Rovers winger Damien Johnson back on duty for his country's next World Cup qualifier.

McIlroy was today due to name his squad for a friendly against Norway in Belfast at the end of the month.

And while Johnson wasn't guaranteed a place in that squad after almost three months on the sidelines with a back injury, McIlroy clearly wants him back to face the Czech Republic in the middle of next month having recently checked on the player's fitness.

Johnson revealed: "We've got a game coming up at the end of the month which might be a bit early for me. I would need to be playing a few first-team games for Blackburn but it was nice that he phoned me.

"I wasn't expecting it but he just called to see how things were going and that coincided with me starting training again so it was nice to get that call."

Johnson returned to training just over a fortnight ago after recovering from a slipped disc and on Monday he played his first game with a scoring run-out in the reserves at Newcastle.

"I felt good. The back was fine and it's just my general fitness that will take a bit more time.

"Rest is all you can do with a back injury. There's not much on the operating side of things. You just want to try and build the muscle around it which is what I've been doing for the last couple of months," he said.

Before picking up the injury, the 22-year-old had enjoyed an impressive start to the season on the right-hand side of midfield.

With Rovers now riding high in the top-six he faces a fight to win back his starting place but plans to put himself back in contention to play a part in the promotion run-in if and when required.

"That's down to the manager. The reserves have got a couple of games coming up so I want to playing as many as I can to be ready whenever the call comes," Johnson added. "I had a good run in the side before I got injured but these things happen. It's just unfortunate.

"It's been good to see us get into a good position and it will be nice to be back if the team needs me.

"You would rather be in when the team is high on confidence and playing well and hopefully if I could get a run back in the team it would be nice.

"It's an important time for us and the manager might need as many players as he can get with suspensions and players maybe picking up injuries at this time."

Rovers are now nine points behind second-placed Bolton in the race for the second promotion place after Sam Allardyce's side won 2-0 at Portsmouth last night. However, Blackburn have two games in hand as they prepare for two meetings in eights days in cup and league against Bolton.

Rovers home game against play-off hopefuls Sheffield United, postponed because of Saturday's cup-tie at Bolton, has been re-arranged for Wednesday, April 4 (kick-off 7.45).