Belfast Telegraph

Why Northern Ireland's new-boys will bring extra excitement to performances, explains Evans

Positive signs: Jonny Evans is excited by the youth breaking through
Positive signs: Jonny Evans is excited by the youth breaking through

By Steven Beacom

Jonny Evans is confident that exciting times lie ahead for Northern Ireland and believes the nation can qualify for the European Championship again.

It is 12 years since Evans, then a teenager, made his international debut in the famous David Healy-inspired 3-2 victory over Spain in Belfast.

The last four have been the best of his career at the highest level — qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals and almost reaching this year’s World Cup. Evans has been magnificent in that period.

In yesterday’s media briefing prior to tonight’s friendly with Israel at Windsor Park, the Leicester City defender was asked what he felt the next four years would bring.

“We’ve seen a lot of progress, and one thing I’ve been impressed by is the lads coming into the squad, I really have,” said the former Manchester United star. “There’s always that worry as players retire if the young lads can step up, but we seem to have a good little group coming through with huge potential.

“They’re all quick, which is good, and it adds that extra excitement into the team having attacking players. Some lads have got moves to different clubs and they are settling in at this stage, and it is exciting for us.

“There is belief that we can qualify for Euro 2020. There’s always a worry at the end of every campaign, ‘Can we go again?’ Michael’s talked about that.

“We went close in the last campaign and it’s given everyone optimism. There are young lads coming in, pushing for places in the team, and there is no reason why we can’t qualify.”

Evans has witnessed much during his 70 caps, though rarely the type of dominant display by Northern Ireland on show against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat in the Nations League.

“For Northern Ireland to play in another team’s half the way we did, I don’t think I’ve experienced that many times in the past,” said the 30-year-old. “It was disappointing we couldn’t win, but from a performance point of view we were pleased to dominate them the way we did.”

For all the attacking, only one goal was scored, and Evans admitted the men in green should not have conceded twice.

“Michael (O’Neill) said when you are attacking that much the defensive concentration can sort of slip away a bit, and maybe in our own defensive third that cost us,” said Evans. “The second goal was a mistake and for the first goal we could have been a bit more aggressive as a defensive line and covered the space where the ball came in.

“Other than that I thought our defensive shape was very good. I don’t think there were moments when we were being dragged about or were technically poor.”

Evans has not played as much as he would have liked since moving to Leicester from West Brom in the summer and is relishing more game time tonight.

He said: “It was a high-paced game. You can feel the muscles are sore but it’s great for me getting that match sharpness.”

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