Saturday 21 April 2018

Michael O'Neill hopeful Jonny Evans will be fit for World Cup qualifiers

Jonny Evans is yet to feature for West Brom this term
Jonny Evans is yet to feature for West Brom this term

Michael O'Neill hopes Jonny Evans will be fit for Northern Ireland's September World Cup qualifiers and believes the defender would be successful with Manchester City were he to move this month.

West Brom skipper Evans is in O'Neill's 25-man squad for next week's trip to San Marino and the home game with Czech Republic three days later even though he is yet to feature for the Baggies this term.

Albion rejected a bid from City for the 29-year-old defender last week but Evans' club manager Tony Pulis insists the player's absence from his team is purely down to a hamstring issue.

Pulis stressed on Tuesday that Evans will feature against Stoke on Sunday "if he's fit" and O'Neill revealed the defender is confident he can represent his country after that.

"If he's fit to play, he'll play. If he's not fit to play, he'll not be with us," O'Neill said at a press conference.

"I don't want to comment too much on Jonny's fitness because it's between him and his club at the moment. In conversations (I've had) with Jonny, he's optimistic he's going to be fit to play. We have to see what happens at the weekend."

Evans' immediate club future will be resolved by the time he next pulls on a green shirt as the transfer window shuts the day before the Northern Irish play San Marino.

Pep Guardiola's interest in the 61-cap international has been derided by some but O'Neill has unwavering belief in ex-Manchester United defender Evans' ability.

"I believe Jonny is a player that can play at the top end of the Premier League," he added.

"That's not being disrespectful to West Bromwich Albion; they've been great for him in the two years he's been there.

"He's played previously for nine years at the biggest club in the world so I think if the opportunity is there and it comes to fruition he would be a very good signing for Manchester City. At this minute in time it's not for me, it's between West Bromwich Albion and Manchester City."

Evans' West Brom team-mate Gareth McAuley is missing due to the thigh problem that forced him off against Azerbaijan in June and striker Liam Boyce, another who started in Baku, ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in pre-season.

QPR's Conor Washington has been recalled after he missed the last qualifier to get married and Jonny's brother Corry Evans is another addition from the most recent squad having overcome a groin injury.

There is also a place for Craig Cathcart despite the fact he is yet to appear for Watford this season, with groin and knee issues restricting him to just a solitary appearance in his country's qualification campaign so far.

Injuries to Sunderland's Paddy McNair (knee) and Nottingham Forest's Jamie Ward (calf) keep them out and Will Grigg, who is yet to start a league game for Wigan, is only on the standby list.

The Northern Irish, currently second in Group C, travel to San Marino next week and then face the Czechs in Belfast the following Monday.

They are currently four points clear of Czech Republic and can guarantee a second-placed finish in this double header if results go their way.

Full squad: Roy Carroll (Linfield), Michael McGovern (Norwich), Alan Mannus (St. Johnstone); Aaron Hughes (Hearts), Jonny Evans (West Brom), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Conor McLaughlin (Millwall), Lee Hodson (Rangers), Daniel Lafferty (Sheffield United), Adam Thompson (Bury), Ryan McLaughlin (Oldham), Tom Flanagan (Burton); Steven Davis (Southampton), Niall McGinn (Gwangju), Oliver Norwood (Brighton), Corry Evans (Blackburn), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Paul Paton (St. Johnstone), Matthew Lund (Burton); Kyle Lafferty (Hearts), Josh Magennis (Charlton), Conor Washington (QPR), Shay McCartan (Bradford).

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