Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Jonny Evans back in the zone for Manchester United

Jonny Evans

It may be a song more associated with Liverpool, but don’t be surprised if you ever hear Manchester United star Jonny Evans humming along to ‘I get by with a little help from my friends.’

That’s certainly been the case for the Northern Ireland defender, who has got his United career back on track with some impressive form this season.

Indeed Evans has been so solid for the Red Devils since August that he could feel extremely hard done by if he is not included in the starting line-up for Sunday’s visit of derby rivals Manchester City, even though both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are fit.

Add the excellent Phil Jones and Chris Smalling into the mix and competition at the heart of United’s defence is fierce.

To the credit of Evans, though, he is hanging in there and deserving of his place in the side.

As a sign of Sir Alex Ferguson’s faith in the Ulsterman, Evans has played in all of United’s big games this season against Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Tuesday night’s appearance in the 2-0 Champions League victory over Otelul Galati in Romania was his ninth outing of the season.

He hopes he’ll make it double figures when City come to Old Trafford — and win, lose or draw he can expect an honest assessment of his performance from those closest to him.

“I have enough family and friends around me who are happy to bring me down to earth,” says Evans, whose younger brother Corry is also a Northern Ireland international.

“I have friends who would say, ‘You didn't play too well today'.

“At the time, I might think they are being cheeky but they were right. They will tell you.

“Sometimes you have to take on board what the people closest to you say. You have to be honest with yourself as well.”

And Evans is honest enough to admit that he had his struggles last season.

It was the first time since he made the first team breakthrough in the Premier League in 2008 that he didn’t produce anything like his true form.

“If you look back over the years a lot of youngsters have come into the team and had a good season or two, then taken a little dip,” Evans said.

“Sometimes you do think you are immune from it and maybe I took my eye off the ball a little bit.

“Maybe I relaxed a bit too much and thought it was going to come as easily as the previous two seasons. All of a sudden it hits you. You just have to regroup and have a word with yourself.”

The talk with himself and discussions with his friends did him the world of good.

With Jones arriving from Blackburn in the summer and Smalling emerging as a fine defender, there was a feeling that Evans would be way down Ferguson’s pecking order.

Evans felt the heat, but he says he’s cool about everything now.

“I feel more assured now,” said the 23-year-old, who will be a key figure for the new Northern Ireland manager in the next few years.

“When you go through a stage of not playing well, there is a bit of pressure. Sometimes you can feel the crowd are getting on your back. In the end it was a case of ‘stuff it, what have I got to lose'.

“The thing in my favour was that I have never been one to shirk a challenge. Whenever things are tough, I always feel as though I can respond and not hide away.

“Now I go out there and relax, play my football and go home.”

Meanwhile, Nani is relying on United's incredible home record to see them to victory in Sunday's blockbuster with City.

Incredibly, United have dropped just two points in their last 25 home games, and they came against West Brom last season after Sir Alex Ferguson's side had got themselves two goals ahead.

It is an amazing statistic, dating back to Chelsea's triumph at Old Trafford in April 2010 and ensures the Red Devils will approach this weekend's encounter in confident mood.

“City have a fantastic team at the moment with fantastic players,” said the Portugal winger.

“But we should not forget; we are United.

“When we play at home it is very hard to beat us.”

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