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Evans belongs at the very top: McGovern

Czech Rep v N Ireland, World Cup Qualifying Group C: Generali Arena, Prague, Sunday, 7.45pm

Paul Ferguson in Austria

Published 03/09/2016

Making an impact: Michael McGovern has already made the No.1 shirt at new club Norwich his own, building on his heroic displays for NI in France
Making an impact: Michael McGovern has already made the No.1 shirt at new club Norwich his own, building on his heroic displays for NI in France
Jonny Evans

Northern Ireland's star goalkeeper Michael McGovern is convinced defender Jonny Evans does not get the respect he deserves for his performances.

Evans was outstanding during the Euro 2016 finals as he stifled the threats of Poland's Robert Lewandowski, Ukraine's Andriy Yarmolenko and Wales' Gareth Bale.

But despite being linked with a big summer move to Arsenal, Evans remains at West Brom with the Gunners opting for Valencia's Shkodran Mustafi.

This has baffled McGovern, who secured his own move from Hamilton to Norwich City in the Championship on the back of heroic performances in France.

McGovern, proud to have the former Manchester United centre-half play just in front of him, believes 28-year-old Evans is one of the top defenders in the Premier League and deserves to be performing for a top-four side.

The Fermanagh man said: "He showed at the Euros what a top-class defender he is. It's no surprise that there was a top Premier League team looking at him because I feel he's more than capable of playing for a top-four team.

"He's already proven that and I was surprised last year that he went to West Brom, because they got a bargain there. He could definitely still be playing for a top team."

With Watford's Craig Cathcart out injured, Evans will likely partner his West Brom team-mate Gareth McAuley in tomorrow's World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic in Prague.

At the training camp in Austria this week, Evans was relaxed about the move to Arsenal not coming to fruition and put it down to 'speculation'.

But McGovern feels there is a continual lack of respect shown to Evans and it goes back to his days at United.

"I don't think he gets enough respect," insisted McGovern. "At United he never got enough respect and he was part of the team that won the league.

"I remember as defenders it was him, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand and Jonny played most of that season. He's a class defender. I don't know if it's because he's British, maybe if he was foreign maybe he'd got more credit.

"I thought he was our best player at the Euros. He's got the lot. He's great on the ball, is a ball-playing defender, is really strong, great in the air and talks really well.

"He just takes it all in his stride and he's a leader for us on the pitch. When you're playing with him as a goalkeeper, you feel secure and you know you can trust him."

McGovern, who has already forced his way into the Canaries team, refuses to look back at the games at Euro 2016 and hasn't even unwrapped the shirt he was given by Germany's Manuel Neuer. Instead, he is looking forward.

McGovern admitted: "All my Euros shirts are in a drawer in the house. I'll probably get them framed but I haven't had a chance. It's a nice memento but I don't really like to look back, I like to look forward. You're only as good as your last game and you don't want to get bogged down in what happened at the Euros. I watched clips on Facebook and Twitter but never the games.

"We'll try to take the momentum from the Euros into the World Cup qualifiers but on the other hand the Euros are over and done with. We've had a taste of success and want more. It's a brilliant opportunity to build. We've never gone into a World Cup qualifying campaign with such confidence.

"It's hard but it's achievable to get second, at least."

One of the players tasked with trying to score is his Norwich team-mate Kyle Lafferty, who had an agonising week after a transfer to Reading fell through at the last minute.

However, since McGovern's move to Norwich, Lafferty has been one person who has made the transition much easier.

McGovern added: "He's been great. When you go to a new club you don't know too many people. I knew Kyle and he's one of the loudest in the changing room. My family's staying in Glasgow until next week so he's been showing me the sights!"

Inside Track

The last time

World Cup 2010 qualifying, Slavia Praha, October 14 2009, Czech Republic 0-0 Northern Ireland

The key men

Basel stopper Tomas Vaclik has been given the unenviable task of replacing Petr Cech between the sticks as the first choice Czech keeper. He is a great player in his own right, but the weight of expectation will be firmly on his shoulders and it remains to be seen whether that pressure will get to him. Behind a shaky defence, you would imagine he’ll be called into action a few times.

Fresh from an outstanding tournament at Euro 2016 and a new move to Norwich City, Michael McGovern will be hoping he can carry through his form into Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign. With the Czechs’ suspect defence, it’s likely that Northern Ireland will score, meaning it’s just as important that McGovern can keep them out at the other end.

Talking tactics

With Karel Jarolim (below) taking charge of just his second match as Czech Republic boss, this is possibly the best time for Northern Ireland to travel to Prague when their hosts are still trying to adapt to the new coach’s style.

Therefore, Michael O’Neill will know this is an opportunity they can’t pass up if they wish to qualify for a second successive major tournament.

In attack, Northern Ireland should be looking to take advantage of a Czech defence rocked by the retirement of Petr Cech in goal and which have only kept two cleans sheets in their last 26 games.

Expect there to be a heavy emphasis on attack with the midfielders pushing forward to help out whenever possible, namely Corry Evans and Oliver Norwood who will be very important to Northern Ireland’s attacking threat in this tie.

The main threat

While the Czechs may be suspect in defence, they have plenty of options in attack and will test a Northern Irish back four that will be weakened by the loss of the injured Craig Cathcart.

Hertha Berlin’s Vladimir Darida is a highly underrated midfielder who will act as an excellent link between the defence and strikeforce, while Ladislav Krejci, who impressed in the friendly victory against Armenia during the week, poses a threat on the wing both in terms of his goalscoring and his ability to set up chances as well.

Up front they aren’t short of options with Bursaspor striker Tomas Necid a lethal finisher when given the chance. He’ll be joined by one of Vaclav Kadlec, Matej Vydra (above) or Milan Skoda, all three of whom are dangerous partners to the experienced Necid, meaning there are plenty of causes for concern for Michael O’Neill coming into the game.

Belfast Telegraph

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