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Romania defeat disappoints Evans


Corry Evans was disappointed Northern Ireland's winning run ended on Friday night

Corry Evans was disappointed Northern Ireland's winning run ended on Friday night

Corry Evans was disappointed Northern Ireland's winning run ended on Friday night

Northern Ireland left Bucharest "gutted and exhausted" after losing their 100 per cent Euro 2016 qualifying record to Romania.

That was the verdict of midfielder Corry Evans after two late goals from defender Paul Papp had undone his side's manful 74-minute rearguard.

The visitors were thoroughly outplayed during their 2-0 defeat at the Arena Nationala, unable to summon the counter-attacking verve that delivered memorable away wins over Hungary and Greece.

But, despite being penned in their own half for long periods, Michael O'Neill's side defended with gusto, led by overworked centre-halves Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes.

An unlikely draw was starting to become a realistic target when Papp rattled home from 10 yards to break the resistance, then doubled the tally with a neat far-post header to move his country top of the Group F table.

And the late double took its toll on Northern Ireland, who sit one point further back in second.

"Everybody in the dressing room was absolutely gutted and exhausted," said Evans. "We gave our all but it just wasn't good enough against the best team in the group.

"Yes, they put us under a lot of pressure and we were forced on the back foot for large parts of the match, but I honestly believed we were going to hold out for draw and a great point.

"All the players are shattered. It's terrible when you put so much effort in and don't come away with anything. We're all very disappointed. It's very hard to take but that's football."

Despite obvious frustration, Northern Ireland's prospects in Group F remain strong.

Maximum points from the first three matches of the campaign still leaves them well ahead of schedule, while four of their remaining six matches are back in Belfast.

It is a position of strength that Blackburn player Evans is well aware of, even in defeat.

"We weren't at our best and that's disappointing because we came into this game with so much confidence," he added. " But we shouldn't be too downhearted on ourselves. We still have nine points from four games and that is terrific.

"It just would have been so nice to build on our excellent wins because I really do believe we can play better.

"We should be proud of ourselves because I don't think we could have ever envisaged that we'd have nine points after four games.

"We're disappointed but not too downhearted."

Northern Ireland must wait until March for the chance to get back to winning ways, when Finland visit Windsor Park.

Victory in that game would open an eight-point gap between the sides and go a long way to establishing the fifth seeds as candidates for automatic qualification.

"We need to keep our heads up high," said Evans. " We could have played better and now it's a case of moving on and looking to the next game against Finland in March.

"The fact Greece lost to the Faroes on Friday will also hopefully help us."

The absence of injured captain Steven Davis allowed 24-year-old Evans a rare chance to play in his favoured central position against Romania.

He was shifted out wide in a tactical switch in the second half but hopes to have left an impression in the middle.

He said: "Coming to somewhere like this was always going to be difficult and obviously it was made even harder with the likes of Steven out.

"I thought I did alright in the centre - I got the ball, tried to shut up their number 10, as that was the role I was asked to do, and at times I think I did that."

PA Media