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Evans: Northern Ireland will be a better team for Nations League campaign

Michael O’Neill’s men suffered relegation to League C.

Corry Evans scored his first international goal in eight years against Austria (Brian Lawless/PA)
Corry Evans scored his first international goal in eight years against Austria (Brian Lawless/PA)

Corry Evans believes Northern Ireland can take confidence from their Nations League campaign even if results went against them right up to the final seconds of the competition.

Valentino Lazaro struck a stoppage-time winner for Austria as Northern Ireland lost 2-1 on Sunday evening, making it four defeats out of four for Michael O’Neill’s men who have suffered relegation to League C.

Evans had earlier scored his first international goal in eight years to cancel out Xaver Schlager’s strike, and it had looked like being enough to give Northern Ireland their first Nations League point.

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Corry Evans scored a rare goal for Northern Ireland in the defeat to Austria (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It’s always disappointing when you lose the game with the last kick of the ball,” said Evans.

“But we can take a lot of positives out of the performance.

“The manner of the way we played; going a goal down we came back to level the game and at that stage it looked like we were the only side going to go win the game, but it wasn’t to be.

“We have to take great confidence from the way we have been playing in the campaign and take that into the Euro 2020 qualifiers.”

Evans took advantage of Ollie Norwood’s suspension to impress alongside George Saville and Steven Davis in Northern Ireland’s midfield – starting both Sunday’s game and Thursday’s goalless draw with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.

The 28-year-old’s only other Northern Ireland goal came in a Euro 2012 qualifying game against Slovenia in September 2010.

He had played another 45 matches since then – a period in which so much has changed for Northern Ireland given the confidence taken from qualifying for Euro 2016 and coming close to reaching this summer’s World Cup.

The target is now a place at Euro 2020, with the changes continuing as O’Neill introduces a new crop of youngsters to his team – led by Jamal Lewis, Bailey Peacock-Farrell and Gavin Whyte.

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Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill.

“There’s a big transition in the squad with a lot of young players coming,” Evans added. “It’s been a good learning curve for all the young lads and the rest of us, because we were punished for every mistake after not taking chances.

“I think we can take these experiences into the qualifiers and be a better team for it.

“We’re playing better football and have a better squad than when we qualified for Euro 2016 so there is a lot of belief going into the next campaign.”

PA

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