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Jonny Evans is back... now he has to prove his worth

By Steven Beacom

Jonny Evans is Northern Ireland's most famous current footballer on a global stage.

And that was even before the infamous spitting controversy.

Kyle Lafferty, Steven Davis, Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt, Chris Baird, Aaron Hughes and Roy Carroll are also extremely well known throughout the game, but the stature of Evans around the world is at a different level.

Call it the Manchester United effect.

There's also the fact that when on his game the 27-year-old can be a world class performer, as Portugal legend Luis Figo was quick to tell me after Evans played superbly in a 1-1 draw in Porto in 2012 on the night Cristiano Ronaldo won his 100th cap and was furious to be upstaged.

That was the finest display from Evans at international level.

The truth is, though, the United star has not delivered anything like the form he is capable of on a consistent basis for Northern Ireland. Injuries and suspensions, which could have been avoided, have not helped his cause.

There are some fans who will tell you that the back four is a better unit without him and they'll point to the statistics as evidence.

It is amazing to note that in the 10 internationals Evans has played under Michael O'Neill, seven have been lost and three drawn.

The Old Trafford ace hasn't appeared on a winning Northern Ireland team since the 4-0 victory over Faroe Islands in August 2011 and in his absence throughout the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, the defence has been, in the main, outstanding, helping the team to three wins out of four in Group F.

Evans, in the middle of a six-game club ban after the FA found him guilty of spitting at Newcastle's Papiss Cisse, will play tonight against Scotland in the friendly at Hampden for the first time since late 2013.

It's not the most vital match of the international year, but it is hugely important to Evans, who will have club mate and debutant Paddy McNair beside him.

Evans, who has 38 caps, has to show his class, not just for his own sake but for the team.

At the back Northern Ireland are strong. McAuley and Hughes have built a fine partnership and Craig Cathcart rarely lets the side down when called upon.

It's up to Evans to prove he deserves to be in the team on merit rather than because of who he is and who he plays for.

Yesterday, I asked O'Neill if Evans was a cert to start every game now that he is back in the squad.

The reply: "We don't have many players at Manchester United so obviously Jonny comes with a profile of playing at one of the world's biggest clubs.

"What he does when he comes into the squad is give it a lift and he's very happy to be back.

"The last time he played for us was in Turkey in November 2013, so it's been a long break. Having seen him over the past few days he's itching to play and that can only be good. He has a long international career ahead."

The manager has got your back Jonny, now it's over to you.

Belfast Telegraph


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