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Evans ready to go - O'Neill

Banned Jonny Evans is set to make his return to football in Northern Ireland's friendly against Scotland, according to boss Michael O'Neill.

The Football Association suspended the 27-year-old Manchester United defender for six games and Newcastle's Papiss Cisse for seven matches for a spitting incident during the Old Trafford side's 1-0 win over the Magpies on March 4.

Evans has served two matches but will get the chance to get the boots back on in the Vauxhall International challenge match at Hampden Park on Wednesday, March 25, before the crucial Euro Group F qualifier against Finland at Windsor Park the following Sunday.

O'Neill, speaking at the national stadium in Glasgow where he was helping to publicise the friendly against the Scots, revealed he has spoken to Evans and is more than confident the player is mentally attuned to play if required.

He said: "Jonny hasn't played international football for 18 months because of injury and he's also currently serving a suspension.

"He'll welcome the opportunity to get some minutes given the importance of the (Finland) game on Sunday.

"I spoke to him the day after the incident and after the decision as well.

"He is fine and there will be no problems with that at all.

"He is an excellent professional and he will be more than capable of coming and dealing with these games if he is asked to play.

"He hasn't played in the qualification for us yet, he's been injured so it's going to be great to have him back in the squad.

"I'd have no concerns at all around his mental state in terms of being able to come into play at international level."

There was some surprise when Shane Ferguson was named in O'Neill's 27-man squad.

The Irishman was one of five Toon players who signed on loan for Rangers in the transfer window but he has yet to travel to Glasgow as he recovers from a knee injury.

When informed of Ferguson's inclusion, Gers interim-boss Stuart McCall said: "I find that amazing because he is registered to us but he's not been here.

"That has actually astounded me. From what I've been led to believe, we won't see him at all this season."

However, O'Neill said: "Shane is injured at the moment so he's probably an extreme doubt if I'm honest.

"I had hoped he would be further along in his recovery.

"He's still at Newcastle United in terms of his rehab and that's something I'll have to decide on in the next two or three days whether he's included or not.

"I would have hoped he would have played for Rangers by this time.

"He had a slight setback with his knee injury but in the next 24 to 48 hours I'll have to decide whether it's beneficial to include him."

Manchester United's 19-year-old defender Paddy McNair is in line to make his senior debut.

He was an unused substitute against Romania in November but with O'Neill set to rotate his squad in the first fixture, McNair can expect to add another landmark moment to his breakout season.

Doncaster's Luke McCullough is also included alongside veteran defenders Gareth McAuley, Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird, meaning Hull's Alex Bruce again misses out.

Brentford winger Stuart Dallas is another who may benefit from a run-out in Glasgow having returned to the squad.

Dallas won his first and only cap against Wales in 2011's Carling Nations Cup and withdrew from his previous call-up due to injury.

Ferguson's expected withdrawal could yet open the door for the absent Daniel Lafferty, who has been starved of first-team football at Burnley but has recently joined Rotherham on loan.

Kyle Lafferty, who has three goals in four Euro 2016 qualifiers so far, leads the forward unit and will travel from Turkish outfit Caykur Rizespor.

But there was no place for Martin Paterson, on loan with Major League Soccer franchise Orlando City.

With regards the way he will approach the Scotland game, O'Neill said: "The priority is the Finland game, it's as simple as that.

"I'm not sure about experiment but it's a time to look at one or two players who haven't had the opportunity yet in the campaign and also players to get valuable game time."


From Belfast Telegraph