Steven Beacom: Jonny Evans faces up to biggest test at Manchester United
Jonny Evans raced 80 yards to celebrate with hat-trick hero Dimitar Berbatov after the Bulgarian’s match-winning goal for Manchester United against Liverpool on Sunday.
For Evans, as he watched Berbatov head past Pepe Reina to give United a vital 3-2 victory, the emotion was more relief than sheer unbridled joy.
Had Berbatov not rose to the occasion for the third time in the Old Trafford encounter, the Northern Ireland international could have been facing the hairdryer treatment from his manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
After all, it was Jonny’s unnecessary foul on Fernando Torres inside the box that brought Liverpool back into a match that up until then had been a cruise for the Red Devils.
Steven Gerrard calmly slotted the penalty home and then stunned the Theatre of Dreams by levelling matters with a free-kick when Darren Fletcher decided to break away from the defensive wall.
United had drawn 3-3 with Everton the week before, after being 3-1 up.
Losing a two goal lead once is careless. Losing a two goal lead twice is simply unacceptable.
Fortunately for United, unlike in the Everton fixture, they had more than enough time to get back in front thanks to the expert finishing of Berbatov.
Otherwise Sir Alex would have been going crazy in the dressing room and our boy Jonny would have been getting it in the neck.
He didn’t need to make the challenge on Torres and when he did he protested his innocence, I suspect more in hope than expectation, but it was a clear penalty.
That error capped a difficult period for the young man from Rathcoole.
In United’s first away game of the season against Fulham, Evans was criticised by pundits for not being able to handle Bobby Zamora and then he was hammered by Alan Hansen on Match of the Day for those last few minutes of mayhem in the United box when Everton produced that amazing comeback.
I thought that Evans had a steady game at the Cottage and the stick dished out to him on that occasion was over the top.
At Goodison he was culpable, but he was not alone with veteran Gary Neville virtually getting off scot free.
Didn’t both crosses that led to the goals come from his side of the pitch?
As for the Torres incident, Jonny was totally to blame.
Yes, the Spaniard has famously made a a mug of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in the past, but that was when he was at his brilliant best.
The bottom line for Jonny is that now he is fair game, which in many ways shows how much he has progressed in recent years. No longer is he seen as the kid who comes in and does a fine job when Vidic or Ferdinand are absent.
Evans is considered a first team regular and as such is under intense scrutiny, with every little error magnified.
To date the 22-year-old has had a wonderful career.
He has met every challenge head on, from coming through the youth ranks at Old Trafford to going to Royal Antwerp and Sunderland on loan, not to mention shining for his country.
He has been an unqualified success, but now the affable defender faces his biggest test.
Constantly under the microscope for United he must produce time, after time, after time.
There’s no doubt that he has the ability to do it and with Ferdinand’s continuing injury woes he’s likely to get the chance to prove his worth.
If he doesn’t deliver, though, Ferguson will give recent recruit Chris Smalling an opportunity or buy another centre-half.
It’s a ruthless world when you are considered a top gun at United and Jonny has to show he can live in it.