Jonny Evans delighted with Northern Ireland's attackers
JONNY Evans was at the centre of another decent defensive display by Northern Ireland but even he talked mostly about the attacking threat the team now carries.
Estonia scored direct from a free kick, while tomorrow night’s opponents Belarus netted via a big deflection in Belfast so Michael O’Neill’s men remain as hard to score against as they have been in recent seasons.
The difference now is the forward thrust offered by the likes of Conor Washington, Josh Magennis, and Jordan Jones, all of whom came off the bench to great effect in Tallinn on Saturday evening.
“They did,” concurred the Leicester City centre half. “Conor has a point to prove. He’s been promoted with Sheffield United and he’s found himself without a club now.
“But he’s looked sharp and had a bit of confidence too, you could tell that about him even in training. You always felt Michael would use him given how he was doing in training.
“Jordan is obviously going to Rangers. It’s a big move for him in the summer and he looked full of confidence.
“Josh the same. That’s a couple of times he has done that now in this campaign and he keeps coming with goals and he’s a huge threat for us.”
The squad for this double-header is missing Olly Norwood, Niall McGinn, and Wil Grigg, while Kyle Lafferty didn’t even get a run-out, so it’s no surprise that the 31-year-old Evans is impressed by the quality of the panel:
“I think Michael has talked about that and it’s probably the strongest our squad has ever been in terms of depth.
“Michael has tough decisions to make all the time and it’s probably the toughest period in his international career to pick a team but that’s a good sign for the squad.
“We have players coming in and I’m sure sometimes the fans don’t know what team he’s going to pick. Reporters are also probably always second guessing. It shows he puts his faith in players when they’re showing form at certain times.
“Michael is always conscious of picking players who are in form and playing at their clubs, because it’s so difficult to come into international football when you haven’t been playing for a while and get up to the speed of the game.
“But I think the lads showed good energy and our fitness levels told in the end because you could tell Estonia were tired.”
Evans was especially pleased about battling back from behind, in testing conditions:
“It’s good because it shows the character of the team. First half was difficult and it took us a while to adjust to the weather. It was hot.
“We started well but their goal knocked us back a bit. We re-grouped at half-time and really pressed them in the second half. We put them under pressure and got the rewards in the end.
“Plenty of times in the past we wouldn’t have found a way back into that game, but we have a way of playing now and a structure about our game and team shape.
“We know we’ve got to keep playing our game. Yes, we can mix it up a bit as well and go more direct if we have to - that’s always been a strength of ours in the past. It’s great to have different options.”
With nine points from three games, NI are aiming to make it 12 from four against Belarus in Borisov tomorrow night, confirmed Evans:
“We talked before about it being almost like a mini-group and could we get maximum points from these four games, because we know how tough the remaining four games against two top sides will be, so we want to put ourselves in a good position.
“Germany and the Netherlands still have games to play and catch up on, so it’s important to get that head start.”
“That was the target and we’re on track. It’s all about our recovery now and making sure we’re ready.
“We stay in Tallinn until Monday and then we fly out to Belarus and hopefully get the job done there”.