Craig Cathcart has leapt to the defence of Jonny Evans over his horror challenge on Bolton’s Stuart Holden.
The crunching tackle ended the midfielder’s season but the Newtownabbey man has apologised to the American international and Evans’ former Manchester United comrade says the 23-year-old should not be lambasted for the lunge.
“It was just one of those 50-50 challenges and he was unlucky because he caught the lad,” said Cathcart, a winner of the Belfast Telegraph George Best Breakthrough Award.
“It could have happened the other way with the lad hurting Jonny and as the referee saw the injury it caused that swayed his mind to show the red card.
“I’m sure he’s disappointed to miss a few games including the FA Cup semi-final but I’m sure he’ll move on from it and we also hope Stuart makes a very speedy recovery.”
Cathcart made an unforgettable Northern Ireland debut, when in an unfamiliar left-back role, he set up Corry Evans’ winning goal in Slovenia last September.
It was a wonderful defensive performance that laid the foundation for that memorable 1-0 triumph and Cathcart knows the same battling qualities and spirit can see them repeat the trick in Serbia tomorrow night.
“It was my first cap and very different for me, playing at left-back, but I was just thrilled to be involved,” he added.
“We soaked up a lot of pressure and defended really well. The goal was a huge bonus. It was the perfect away performance.
“This game will be different because of the lack of fans in the stadium and the players will not be used to it. It will remind me of youth team matches and reserve games.
“But it’s important we play our normal game. When you are a player you hear the fans before the game, but you have to block out that noise when the game starts. It shouldn’t make that much a difference to the outcome.”
Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington has plenty of experience to call upon at the back with Aaron Hughes, Jonny Evans, Stephen Craigan and Gareth McAuley ready to step up to the challenge but Cathcart wants another chance to shine.
“I’ll be happy if I’m on the pitch — defence, midfield or striker,” said Cathcart.
“It will be tough but we have to be confident we can get something from it.
“Serbia is going to be a huge test for us. They have a lot of good players but they will be missing their skipper, Nemanja Vidic.”
The defender has no regrets over leaving Manchester United for Blackpool and he’s now getting regular first team experience at Bloomfield Road.
He added: “I think I’ve had a decent season and I’m getting better all the time.
“Playing week in, week out, has really helped my development and I feel I have improved with every match I’ve played in.
“I’ve really enjoyed the season so far.”