Belfast Telegraph

Peacock-Farrell and Northern Ireland's other new stars can fuel Euro bid: Evans

 

Standing tall: Jonny Evans is mobbed after scoring the opener against Belarus
Standing tall: Jonny Evans is mobbed after scoring the opener against Belarus

By Steven Beacom

Experienced defender Jonny Evans believes the growing confidence in Northern Ireland's young guns can prove an influential factor in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

Leicester City star Evans has been there and done it at club and international level, and in the home wins over Estonia and Belarus he was very impressed with the new kids on the block like Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Jamal Lewis and Jordan Jones, who played key roles in helping Michael O'Neill's team secure maximum points in the opening games of the campaign.

The ex-Manchester United centre-back pointed out that after a disappointing Nations League campaign, in which the side lost all four matches, it would have been easy for the youngsters to get down, but that has not been the case.

Evans said: "After the Nations League, you might think some of their heads might have dropped because they were coming in when we didn't get any victories in that competition, but they've managed to keep their heads down, worked hard and I think Michael always gives them the assurance and confidence they're good enough at this level."

The 31-year-old had special praise for Leeds goalkeeper Peacock-Farrell, who made crucial saves in both qualifiers.

"Obviously he's not playing at his club at the moment, but he's come in and in the last two games I think he's really come on massively," said Evans.

"You can even see in his stature, he seems even bigger, and I was even more pleased to see him coming for crosses and knocking us defenders out of the way.

"As a defender, we like it when goalkeepers come off their line and take the pressure off us. I think another plus in his game is his kicking, which is also very good."

While Josh Magennis netted a late winner in Sunday's 2-1 victory against Belarus, Evans headed in his third international goal after Steven Davis flicked on a Niall McGinn cross.

"I think Steven Davis has the magic touch - he's got another assist," said Evans, who was composed and confident throughout the two games.

"I just wanted to get it on target. I didn't really get that much pace on it, but I managed to place it in the right area of the net. It was nice to score.

"Most importantly we got two wins. That's what we set out to do and it puts us on track in the group.

"We now have two tough away games in June against the two teams we've just played but it's a big opportunity for us to go into the games in September still top of the group.

"I don't think there's any doubt we need to win the first four games in the group. Listen, if we do draw or lose a game it won't be the end of the world, but we're playing Germany and Holland in the second half of the campaign.

"They are two really tough teams and we have got to make sure that we get the most points possible from the first four games."

Evans revealed that he expects O'Neill to organise a training camp for the players ahead of the double-header in June when some Northern Ireland stars may not have played for a month.

"It's a tough time because the season ends for players at different stages. I think some of the Estonian players might also be in season in June, so for Michael and the staff it's a very difficult time to make sure all the lads are fit," he added.

"Some players might be four weeks between the end of their club season and the first game against Estonia in June, but I'm sure Michael will get us together and maybe have a little training camp before we go away."

NORTHERN IRELAND FIXTURES TO COME

June 8: Estonia v Northern Ireland

June 11: Belarus v Northern Ireland

Sep 9: Northern Ireland v Germany

Oct 10: Netherlands v Northern Ireland

Nov 16: Northern Ireland v Netherlands

Nov 19: Germany v Northern Ireland

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