Michael O'Neill met with what he must have known was an inevitable scenario yesterday when Jonny Evans was ruled out of Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifying double header against the Faroe Islands and Greece.
Deep down O’Neill will have been well aware, even when he named the squad last week, that Evans was unlikely to feature in either game.
The Manchester United defender was fighting a race against time to be fit for international duty from the moment that he limped off only 30 minutes into United’s 5-3 defeat against Leicester City just over a fortnight ago.
A brief statement from the Irish FA confirming the new of Evans’ withdrawal said: “Jonny Evans has been forced to withdraw from the Northern Ireland squad for the Uefa Euro 2016 qualifiers against Faroe Islands and Greece as the result of an ankle injury.”
The possibility of replacing Evans with his new Old Trafford first-team colleague Paddy McNair was taken away from O’Neill too when the 19-year-old, who has earned rave reviews after playing in United’s last two games, picked up a hamstring injury in Sunday’s win over Everton.
O’Neill still has 26 players to pick from, but the injury to Evans — who missed last month’s 1-0 win over Hungary in Budapest through suspension — has now increased the likelihood of the manager selecting an unchanged line-up for Saturday night’s Windsor Park clash with the Faroes.
The IFA has announced that the match is a 10,000 sell out, with the capacity currently reduced due to the ongoing redevelopment work.
Fans who are still awaiting the arrival of the ‘Campaign Cards’ ahead of the first home game of the Euro 2016 series have been assured by the IFA that they will be delivered in the post either today or tomorrow.
Instructions have also been issued on the IFA website for anyone whose card, which replaced the old block booking ticket, doesn’t arrive by Friday.
Meanwhile, Greece have been hit by a withdrawal ahead of their meeting with Northern Ireland in Athens next Tuesday.
Jose Holebas, who now plays for Roma after being a former team-mate of Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll at Olympiakos, will also miss Saturday’s game against Finland after picking up a groin injury at the weekend. Fellow defender Avraam Papadopoulos is also out, while midfielder Panagiotis Kone is a doubt. Kostas Giannoulis has been called up.