Evans backs Northern Ireland bid to reach Euro 2020 through play-offs
Jonny Evans believes Northern Ireland’s 3-2 friendly win over the Czech Republic in Prague shows Michael O’Neill’s men are equipped to reach Euro 2020 via the qualifying play-offs.
Northern Irish hopes of getting out of Group C ahead of either Germany or Holland are all but over after a heartbreaking late defeat to the Dutch in Rotterdam last Thursday.
But the Green and White Army are well placed to reach the play-offs where Leicester defender Evans expects them to face a similar challenge to the Czechs.
“If we do manage to get ourselves into a position where we get a play-off that would be fantastic,” Evans said.
“Games like this are important for that. These are probably the type of teams we are going to have to play coming away from home.”
Northern Ireland were cruising on Monday night and were 3-0 up after Paddy McNair scored either side of Evans’ own strike before facing a second-half comeback from the Czechs, who got two in two minutes through Vladimir Darida and Alex Kral.
That looked the ideal test of a three-man defence which saw Tom Flanagan come in alongside Evans and Craig Cathcart.
“Teams bombarding our box, being able to adapt tactically, that was good about the game,” Evans added.
“I think over the last couple of years we have shown that we are team that can come away and get results.
“We got a 0-0 away here last time which was amazing as it was the start of our last campaign. It’s good that we have been able to show a level of consistency.”
It was a game of two halves in the cliched sense, with Northern Ireland completely on top against a Czech team sporting 10 changes from the side who beat England on Friday, while Northern Ireland included five of the players that started in Rotterdam.
“I think at half-time we thought to ourselves, ‘we don’t have this opportunity very often’ so therefore it was important we didn’t let it slip,” Evans said of their first away friendly victory in 13 years.
“They got their two goals in quick succession but we always felt comfortable in the game, we didn’t feel as though they were running us ragged.
“Maybe fatigue set in, we put a lot into the game the other night and I hope people recognise it was very hard to replicate that a couple of games in a row.
“They had a little bit more freshness.”
Flanagan put in an assured performance as he earned only his fourth cap, having come on as a late substitute in Rotterdam and to see a 1-1 draw turn into a 3-1 defeat with two stoppage-time goals.
The 27-year-old had every right to be pleased with his performance on Monday after admitting to some serious self-reflection over the weekend.
“Obviously it was devastating how it ended and you can’t help but look at yourself when you come on as a sub and it’s 1-1 and you walk off losing 3-1,” he said of Thursday’s loss.
“I’ll go away and have a think about it, watch the game, speak to some of the coaches here and get some feedback.
“I want to be where Craig and Jonny are so I speak to Craig and Jonny during the week and stuff like that. I’m not a kid, but I want to learn because I want to be where they are.”