Monday 20 November 2017

Northern Ireland bring in Corry Evans for Czech Republic clash

Corry Evans, pictured, replaced Kyle Lafferty in Northern Ireland's only change
Corry Evans, pictured, replaced Kyle Lafferty in Northern Ireland's only change

Corry Evans replaced Kyle Lafferty in the only change to Northern Ireland's team as they aimed to seal second place in their World Cup qualification group with a home point against Czech Republic.

Michael O'Neill had hinted that Blackburn midfielder Evans would be included and striker Lafferty, who started in an attacking line-up against minnows San Marino on Friday, was the one to make way.

The Czechs, who had made six changes for the loss to Germany on Friday, presumably with this fixture in mind, only introduced Ladislav Krejci for Jan Kopic.

At a venue where the hosts had not lost a competitive game since Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick for Portugal in September 2013, Northern Ireland started brightly with Conor Washington threatening with his pace up top.

Chris Brunt's first corner reached a green shirt in the second minute but Josh Magennis, who scored two against San Marino on Friday, could only guide his header off target.

Evans, brought in more as a defensive shield, then drilled a vicious effort into Filip Novak's face before Norwood's misplaced pass led to a Czech corner at the other end.

Jakub Jankto's set-piece came to Krejci at the near post and his flicked-on effort sailed over to cheers from a packed-out Windsor Park.

The noise level raised again when Jan Boril's arm caught Conor McLaughlin's head as the full-back attempted to clear in the air, with a livid Magennis pushing the Czech player away before referee Daniele Orsato correctly ruled the contact to be accidental and showed no card.

Stuart Dallas' burst down the left brought more excitement only for his cross to be collected by goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik as the tense opening continued.

The visiting side were seeing plenty of the ball as the Northern Irish reverted to a five-man midfield that had limited the Czechs to just a header from Boril that Michael McGovern collected easily.

And it was the home side that would go ahead 28 minutes in, unsurprisingly from a corner, but more surprisingly through Jonny Evans.

Brunt's delivery from the right was initially headed out by Marek Suchy and when Oliver Norwood guided it back into the area, Theodor Gebre Selassie was slow getting out, allowing an unmarked Jonny Evans to remain onside and flick a header beyond Vaclik.

It was just the centre-back's second international goal in 11 years, and his first in over 4,000 minutes since netting against Poland in March, 2009.

Less than a week after seeing a deadline-day move to Manchester City fail to materialise, the West Brom captain showed the whole soap opera had had no impact on him as he fist-pumped to the crowd.

An Albion player broke the deadlock, and his club colleague then made it 2-0 four minutes before the break. Corry Evans did brilliantly to carry the ball from his own half to the edge of the box before winning a free-kick off Novak, and Brunt stepped up from 25 yards out, whipped the set piece over the wall and between Vaclik's hand and the post to leave the hosts in delirium.

INTRO: West Brom duo Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt both scored in the first half for Northern Ireland against Czech Republic as they took a huge step towards securing a play-off for the World Cup.

Michael O'Neill's men needed just a point to secure second place, and a probable play-off berth, and Evans headed in his first international goal in eight-and-a-half years against a Czech side that had to win or they would be eliminated from contention.

And Brunt dispatched a 25-yard free-kick into the bottom corner of the net just before the interval to leave O'Neill's side on the verge of a fifth successive victory that would virtually assure them of a place in November's play-offs.

Showing clear confidence in their strong position, Northern Ireland played their way out of trouble with a glorious move from left-back to right wing that elicited more applause from the stands.

That extended to McGovern when he rushed out to claim a Gebre Selassie cross before Czech Republic boss Karel Jarolim turned to his bench.

Josef Husbauer and Jan Kliment were the two he brought on 10 minutes after the break, and O'Neill immediately responded by introducing Lee Hodson for Washington and switching to a back five.

McGovern had a nervy moment when a left-wing cross almost reached Michal Krmencik and he had to make sure it did not drop inside the post.

It was all one-way traffic, and the home side were not helped by a static Magennis offering no outlet to Jonny Evans, who lost the ball and was grateful for Norwood clearing.

A loose ball from a corner was hooked at McGovern by Suchy, with the Northern Irish grateful it fell to a centre-back as they entered the final 20 minutes looking good for that play-off spot.

Ice-cool captain Davis, in his 97th international appearance, was proving pivotal in steadying the team, but the energy expended in defending meant there was little attacking threat when they did break.

O'Neill tried to change that by bringing on Lafferty for Dallas and switching Magennis wide but the Czechs were still asking more questions.

Husbauer's wild challenge on Jonny Evans brought a yellow card for him and Northern Ireland's first goalscorer responded by dishing out some retribution three minutes later to get a caution himself.

Jonny Evans, the unsurprising man of the match, and Davis showed their nous to keep the ball at the top end of the pitch and kill a few more minutes

A rare gee-up from O'Neill to the crowd was greeted with a raucous reception as his side closed on their fifth straight win - a national record - while McGovern kept his seventh shut-out in this campaign and went 10 hours without conceding.

That may not last much longer with the imperious Germans heading to Belfast in October, but Northern Ireland can rest easy knowing that, with two games to go, they likely have enough points for a play-off spot to get to Russia.

INTRO: A play-off for the World Cup finals in Russia beckons for Northern Ireland after their 2-0 win over Czech Republic guaranteed second place in Group C.

Michael O'Neill's side only needed a share of the spoils to seal a runners-up berth, but first-half goals from West Brom pair Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt got them all three to ensure they will almost certainly be involved in November's play-offs, which the eight-best second teams will advance to.

Incredibly, Germany, who have not dropped a point in their eight games to date, have still not qualified and head to Belfast in October looking to win a group that, mathematically, Northern Ireland could still claim.

Press Association

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