Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans eyes up victory over Ukraine
AU revoir is a phrase almost everyone knows and Jonny Evans acknowledged that defeat against Ukraine on Thursday will surely mean ‘goodbye’ for Northern Ireland.
Both sides lost their Group C openers on Sunday and the West Bromwich Albion defender accepted that “it might be a make or break for us against Ukraine”.
The consequence of the mostly cautious approach against Poland, with not a single shot on target, is that “it’s put us in a position now that we have to maybe go for it”.
As was always known, one win will probably secure passage to the last 16. Yet a point against Ukraine probably won’t suffice to progress, due to Germany waiting in the last group match.
“It would have been nice to take something from the [Poland] game,” said Evans, “but we know we can’t lose, especially with going to Paris against Germany in the last game, who are going to dominate the game better than anyone.”
Evans agreed that Northern Ireland need to remember how they played to reach France: “I think so. We looked back at games in the past, how we got here, and we tried to emulate that.
“It was a big occasion. The most important thing was to try to take something from the game and it was disappointing that we didn’t.
“It’s put us in a position now that we have to maybe go for it. You might see a different game on Thursday, you might not. I’m sure we’ll analyse the game, see where we can go better, see what we can improve on.”
Northern Ireland fans are looking forward to the clash with Ukraine
Evans took no consolation from the defeat making their task against Ukraine clear, responding: “It would have been nice to have got a point [against Poland].
“At half-time we realised the amount of work we were putting in and we were like, ‘don’t let this pass us by’.
“Footballers will always run themselves into the ground and we know as a team we have to work hard but it can be quite disheartening when you run your socks off and don’t take anything from the game.”
Ukraine are very dangerous out wide, with Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, so Evans knows NI must be strong in the full-back areas:
“Michael [O’Neill] sort of hinted at that… that we might try different things against different teams, especially Ukraine, who are very good from the wide areas.
“Yarmolenko is probably their most dangerous player. He plays off the right side and that’s something Michael has talked about before. We’ll have to analyse this game and see if we can take any positives from certain aspects of our game.
“There were times in the first half where they had a lot of possession but I thought we defended quite well, but on the flip side we found it hard to get out.”
The 28-year-old is happy to move to left-back if required, having already replaced Chris Brunt there at club level with WBA:
“Michael said to me before the tournament started that he might need me to play left-back and I told him that wouldn’t be an issue.
“I’ve played there for West Brom this season. Obviously Brunty’s injury has created a problem for me,” he said with a laugh.
“Shane Ferguson has come in, he was in the League One play-off with Millwall, I thought he played well [against Poland] and he’s another who can step in there so the manager has a few different options to try.”
As for the other end of the pitch, Evans rejected the idea that O’Neill must go with two up front:“No, not necessarily – we didn’t play two up front the whole way through the qualifying campaign so I don’t think that’s necessarily always the answer.
“When a team controls the game and has possession, they’re going to force you back, they’re going to force all your players behind the ball almost. We need to get up try to get up to the ball a bit more.
“They’re such a good side, they made us run about and made it difficult for us, and it was very hot out there.”
The temperature was testing, 23 degrees, something that Evans had barely been through before: “In pre-season games, yeah, but I don’t think I’ve experienced that at international level before, usually they’re night games.
“It was a tough game and Poland passed the ball well. There were times when we couldn’t get up to the ball and have an effect on it, so we were doing a lot of running.
“I’m sure that’s something the manager will have a look at and we’ll try to stamp our authority a bit more on the game [against Ukraine]”