Manchester United defender Jonny Evans will play against Scotland
Banned star Jonny Evans will be re-introduced into the Northern Ireland team against Scotland at Hampden Park in 9 days time.
Evans (right) hasn’t played for Northern Ireland in any of the 2016 European Championship qualifiers due to injury. He’s missed the last eight internationals. The 27-year-old last performed for his country in the defeat to Azerbaijan in 2013 when Evans was sent off in Baku.
The Old Trafford defender was expected to be rested for the friendly against Scotland as the Glasgow clash comes just four days before Northern Ireland’s vitally important Euro qualifier at home to Finland.
But after Evans was slapped with a six match domestic football suspension for allegedly spitting last week, O’Neill will expedite his return to the team to give the Greenisland lad crucial game time.
Evans is set to form an all-Manchester United centre back pairing with young Paddy McNair, who will earn his senior international debut in Glasgow.
O’Neill wants to use the friendly against Gordon Strachan’s Scotland to give those players who have struggled for first team action in recent months a chance to play and also reward those squad members who hardly feature in Michael O’Neill’s team.
“Looking back to the defeat against Romania in November, the likes of Chris Baird and Kyle Lafferty hadn’t played much football for their clubs going into that game. They, and some other players, could have done with a match before that qualifier. Maybe even just playing 45 or 60 minutes,” says O’Neill.
“So I’ll be using the match against Scotland to give those players who haven’t played much for their clubs recently an opportunity to play football. Aaron Hughes at Brighton for instance, hasn’t played first team football in two months.
“Jonny Evans was on a good run with Manchester United — improving in every game he played — until the ban. But that’s changed everything and I expect he’ll now need a game even if it’s just a half.
“This match could also give me the chance to play Paddy McNair and reward those players who travel all over the world with us but haven’t seen much action. Players such as Ben Reeves and Billy McKay may be given an opportunity to play against Scotland.”
A game against British opposition is usually a highly charged affair — we only have to remember back to those cracking games against England and Wales in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers.
But O’Neill admits the result of the match is immaterial to him with such an important Euro qualifier against Finland on the horizon.
“This is a preparation game,” says O’Neill. “It’s about the players getting the game time they need.
“We could lose 1-0 and yet it could be so beneficial for the players. In contrast we could win 1-0 and yet we may have learnt nothing. This game is just another part of the build up to the game against Finland. It’s not about the result for me.
“The entire focus of the week will be with Finland in mind. That’s the important game and the match we need to win.
“My homework on Finland is complete. I’ve studied all the DVDs of their games in this campaign and digested the reports from my scouts at their games. They have actually been unlucky — they could have taken more points — especially the late defeat to Hungary.
“We have a chance to move to 12 points in the group with victory — that would be eight points ahead of them which is a lot to claw back. On the other hand, they could move to within two points of us if they win. So this is why it’s such a big game.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital