Jonny Evans is not the type to spit, says Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has issued a strong defence of his under-fire star Jonny Evans.
The Manchester United defender is facing a lengthy club ban if found guilty of spitting at Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse at St James' Park on Wednesday night following an ugly confrontation between the players in the first half.
Television replays appear to show Evans spitting in the direction of Cisse and the Senegalese international retaliating in kind. Yesterday, Evans denied he had spat at his opponent, but Cisse apologised for his part in the incident.
O'Neill is firmly in the Evans camp.
"In my experience Jonny would be one of the last players I have ever worked with or come across that I would feel was capable of spitting at a fellow professional," said O'Neill, a former Newcastle favourite, who was at the midweek match on Tyneside.
"Jonny is not that type of person. Definitely not. Never for one moment would I think he would do it. I feel he was spitting at the ground, not his opponent.
"I know his father well. Jonny has had a good upbringing. I just don't think it is in him to do that."
Despite O'Neill's opinion and the innocent plea from Evans, the FA may still punish him, leaving him short of game time ahead of Northern Ireland's double header against Scotland and Finland at the end of this month.
O'Neill added: "Jonny needs to play. He is back in the United team and against Newcastle he cruised through. He has played two matches in a row and my preference is that he plays up until our friendly with Scotland and the Euro qualifier against Finland.
"Jonny has had a stop-start season with injuries and needs to be playing on a regular basis.
"We aren't far away from the Finland game. I want players joining up with us in the right frame of mind in terms of where they are with their clubs. You want your players to be playing and to be playing well and feeling positive."
Due to injury Evans has not featured yet in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, which sees Northern Ireland in second place with four games gone, but O'Neill says he is still crucial to his plans.
He said: "Jonny is still an important player and not just for the present, but for the future. Players like Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes have been fantastic for us, but they can't go on forever so you are relying on players like Jonny, Craig Cathcart and Paddy McNair in years to come at the back."