Belfast Telegraph

Gareth McAuley fitness boost as Michael O'Neill stays patient with doubtful Jonny Evans

By Stuart McKinley

Gareth McAuley will be fit to face Greece in Thursday night's potentially decisive Euro 2016 qualifier at Windsor Park.

And Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has revealed that McAuley's partner at both club and international level, Jonny Evans, is doing all he can to be in the team alongside him, as they go looking for the win that would clinch qualification for next summer's European Championship finals in France.

Both men were rated as doubtful after Saturday's Premier League encounter against Crystal Palace.

West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis revealed that McAuley fought through the pain barrier at Selhurst Park after missing last Monday's game against Everton, while Evans was substituted after just 24 minutes because of a hamstring injury.

McAuley sat out the squad training session yesterday, as did the third member of Northern Ireland's West Brom contingent, Chris Brunt, but both are expected to join in today.

"Gareth was in the wars a bit but he and Chris will be fine for Thursday," said O'Neill.

"As for Jonny, there has been constant dialogue with West Brom.

"They are being fantastic in their co-operation in trying to get Jonny fit for Thursday. He has remained with his club and it's a day-to-day process to see how he is.

"I'm not going to leave the decision until Thursday morning. Tomorrow and Wednesday we will start to focus on team preparation.

"We can't leave it too late but with a player of Jonny's stature and what he brings to the team we will give him as long as possible.

"We know Jonny will do everything possible to get fit."

O'Neill already has to plan without suspended trio Conor McLaughlin, Chris Baird and Kyle Lafferty.

Aaron Hughes, Paddy McNair, Josh Magennis and Liam Boyce are among those in the running to fill the starting positions of the banned threesome.

O'Neill called in Doncaster Rovers defender Luke McCullough and MK Dons midfielder Ben Reeves on Sunday and last night Bradford City centre-half Rory McArdle was added to the squad to provide further cover.

Belfast Telegraph