Belfast Telegraph

International break can help renew West Brom quest's for Premier League survival, says Jonny Evans

Ace defender glad to take break from West Brom relegation woes

By Graham Luney

Jonny Evans has admitted linking up with the Northern Ireland squad this week is a welcome relief from the tears of a relegation fight.

Evans and his West Brom team-mates - including Northern Ireland comrades Chris Brunt and Gareth McAuley - are battling for their Premier League lives but seven straight defeats have left the Baggies 10 points from safety with seven fixtures remaining.

West Brom sacked Tony Pulis in November after a run of just two wins in 21 Premier League matches left them one point above the relegation places.

Alan Pardew was tasked with reviving the club's fortunes but he has won only one of his 18 league games in charge.

Evans is turning his thoughts to Saturday's friendly against South Korea and he will wear the captain's armband in the absence of the injured Steven Davis but despite the storm clouds over the Hawthorns, the 30-year-old still believes the beleaguered Baggies can stage an escape act.

"You always ask the question is it a good time for an international break but in our situation it may do us a bit of a favour and hopefully we can go back, re-group and look at things from a different perspective and go into the last seven games with everything to play for," said the former Manchester United defender.

"I think there is hope. Even after the Bournemouth game at the weekend there was real disappointment in the changing room.

"It's not like we have got to the point where we have accepted relegation. A lot of people have been writing us off. I understand with the position we are in it will be very difficult to get out of.

"There were a few tears after the game at the weekend because going into that game there was a lot of hope and optimism that we would get something from it and trying to turn the season around even at this late stage.

"We were upset and we were ahead and then the game swung in the last 15 minutes and I think it has been the story of our season and it's hard to take sometimes."

Evans added: "Mathematically though we still have hope and we keep going until it is mathematically not possible and we owe it to ourselves and the fans to do that. That's what we will continue to do."

Evans, who will win his 68th cap this weekend, came in for heavy criticism after becoming involved in the 'taxi stealing' incident during the Baggies' mid-season training trip to Barcelona.

The Belfast man, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and former Wales goalkeeper Boaz Myhill apologised for their actions and admitted breaking a curfew during the trip.

The quartet allegedly drove a taxi away from McDonald's and left it outside their five-star hotel in the early hours of the morning following a night out.

Evans said yesterday: "I don't think it has reflected anything on the pitch.

"People try and relate things that aren't always relatable but before we went to Barcelona and before the manager arranged the trip I think we were bottom of the league.

"Our performances throughout the season haven't been up to scratch.

"We haven't got enough points on the board.

"It is very difficult. I have been involved in a situation like this before but sometimes it is important to keep your head and stay focused on your job on the pitch.

"We have quite a settled changing room and harmonious dressing room and we are all very friendly with each other.

"That has been a big positive for us.

"The place isn't completely crumbling like things have been reported on the outside."

Evans and his Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill were at Queen's University Playing Fields yesterday to support the launch of 'Sport Uniting Communities' an EU PEACE IV funded programme which aims to promote peace and reconciliation.

The collaboration project between the Irish FA, Ulster GAA and Ulster Rugby hopes to reach 20,000 people of differing backgrounds, particularly across the political divide, with the aim of changing perceptions and building sustained relationships.

Asked whether West Brom's relegation fight is a similar pressure to going for league titles while at United, Evans added: "I can see the similarities. I have been involved with West Brom when we have been mid-table and I think we went at the end of last season not winning nine games out of 10 or something so when the season is fizzling out like that it is no good to anyone.

"I think players do enjoy that pressure in a way and it allows them to raise their game and be involved in something quite significant through a season. The pressure is there and it is something we would all expect.

"We have seven games left and it is a tough run-in but it doesn't matter who you play because in the Premier League every game is winnable."

Evans has been struggling with a virus but he's hungry to regain strength.

"I was in bed for a good week or so really," he said. "It took me a while. I had a bit of illness with vomiting and that.

"It took my body some time to recover.

"I got to 75 minutes in the game and could feel my calves and hamstrings going. The medical staff there were quite aware that was going to happen.

"It's is all about building up strength and fitness again. When you are not eating and not able to get any calories into your body you are losing weight. I have been trying to force feed myself in the last week."

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