evans fears threat of unbeaten azerbaijan
Michael O'Neill was reluctant to categorise Northern Ireland's game against Azerbaijan at Windsor Park tonight as "make or break" but defender Jonny Evans made little attempt to downplay the significance of the fixture to their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
It is almost four years to the day since O'Neill's side required a 96th-minute free-kick from David Healy to salvage a home draw against Azerbaijan in the previous World Cup qualifying campaign and Evans believes any repeat of that performance could deal a lasting blow to their ambitions of reaching Russia.
"It would really derail our campaign if we perform like that again," the West Brom centre-half said. His concerns are not unjustified. Northern Ireland will fall six points behind Azerbaijan in Group C if they lose tonight. By contrast, victory would draw them level on points with Robert Prosinecki's team, who are second in the group and unbeaten in their first three matches, ahead of the visit of Norway to Windsor Park in March.
O'Neill must plan without the injured Stuart Dallas and Jamie Ward, while striker Conor Washington is doubtful. On the plus side, Chris Brunt, who missed the Euros with a cruciate knee-ligament injury, is available again after returning to action with West Brom.
Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan,
Live, Sky Sports 1, 7.45
Independent.ie Comments Facility
INM has taken the decision to remove the commenting facility on its online platform Independent.ie to minimise the legal risk to our business that arises from Ireland's draconian libel awards system.
We continue to look forward to receiving comments through direct email contact or via social media, some of which may still be featured on the website Independent.ie