Football/Soccer

Jonny Evans positive on future for new-look Northern Ireland

Jonny Evans (right) stood in for Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis at the pre-match presser for tonight's friendly against Israel.

IT might seem doubly strange for Jonny Evans to describe Saturday afternoon’s home defeat to Bosnia & Herzegovina as “a great night for us” but he makes a compelling case for positivity about that performance.

Northern Ireland played excellent attacking football much of that match but were undone by two errors from a new-look defence and somehow lost 2-1 in the Uefa Nations League B, Group 3 opener.

In a sense, the visitors did what Northern Ireland sometimes did to opponents in the past, but Evans still preferred the home side’s performance to much of what they’ve done before:

“I can see what you mean in terms of doing a lot of defending and nicking a few goals but I think it was a great night for us, more than looking at it that way.

“For us to go out and dominate a game the way we did; it’s not easy to do that in football and they are a good side.

“They have some very good players like [Miralem] Pjanic [of Juventus] and [Edin] Dzeko [of Romas], who are playing top level football in one of the best leagues in the world, and to do to them what we did was excellent.”

Evans was the most experienced player in a re-shaped defence, deprived of Chris Brunt due to international retirement, Aaron Hughes because of injury, and Gareth McAuley because he lacked match fitness.

However, Evans argued that having a new goalkeeper [Bailey Peacock-Farrell] and left-back [Jamal Lewis] did not contribute largely to the loss:

“I don’t think so. I don’t think there were moments in the game when I thought we were being dragged about or technically poor.

“The second goal was a mistake and the first goal we could have been a bit more aggressive as a defensive line and covered the space where the ball came in, but those are the only two incidents in the game. Other than that I thought our defensive shape was very good.”

“We’ve seen a lot of progress. I’ve been impressed by the lads coming into the squad, I really have.

“I think there’s always that worry as players retire, can the young lads step up?, but we seem to have a good little group of lads 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 but it is exciting for us.”

One of those transferred over the summer was Evans himself, but his limited game-time at Leicester City means he’s likely to start again this evening against Israel:

“It’s good for me to get my fitness. It was a high-paced game at the weekend. You can feel it in in your body, even today the muscles are sore, but it’s great for me getting that match sharpness, that’s what I need. I’m looking forward to the game to get more of that”.

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