Jonny Evans has been named in a strong 26-man Northern Ireland squad for the Euro 2020 qualifying play-off game against Bosnia and Herzegovina and UEFA Nations League matches against Austria and Norway.
Evans was in Ian Baraclough’s squad last month but did not travel to Bucharest for the draw with Romania for personal reasons before withdrawing from the group ahead of the 5-1 home loss to Norway through injury.
There was fresh concern when Evans hobbled off during Leicester’s 5-2 win over Manchester City at the weekend with a calf problem, but the 32-year-old is included in the group along with Sunderland defender Tom Flanagan, who missed last month’s games for personal reasons.
There is one new face in the form of St Johnstone’s 20-year-old midfielder Ali McCann, but Aberdeen’s Matty Kennedy is out with an injury while there is no place for Linfield’s Shayne Lavery.
Northern Ireland will travel to Sarajevo for their crucial showdown with Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 8 – long after the game was postponed from its original date in March amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think the build-up for the Bosnia game have been going on for six, seven months now so for it to finally be here now is exciting,” Baraclough said.
“We know the task ahead of us, it’s going to be a monumental effort for us to get ourselves through to a play-off final to put ourselves in a position to get to a Euros but these are the sorts of games everyone wants to be involved in.”
After Gavin Whyte’s 86th minute equaliser gave 10-man Northern Ireland a morale-boosting draw in Romania, the heavy home defeat to Norway was a sore one for Baraclough to take in his first home game in charge, but it is not a match he has dwelt upon.
“It was a defeat under exceptional circumstances in where the players had been,” he said. “We’ve put that to bed now and we’re fully focused on the next three games.”
The game could see captain Steven Davis become Northern Ireland’s most-capped player after the Rangers midfielder equalled Pat Jennings’ record of 119 caps in last month’s loss to Norway.
If Northern Ireland can win in Sarajevo, they will face either Slovakia or the Republic of Ireland next month for a place at the rearranged Euro 2020 finals.
Following the Bosnia trip, Baraclough’s side will play Austria in Belfast on October 11 and then travel to Oslo to face Norway on October 14.
The intense schedule means Baraclough is likely to need his full squad of players to be involved, making it all the more important that more of them have been getting regular action at club level.
“A good few of them, since we got together a month ago, have got four or five games under their belts and it’s good to see players playing at a good level,” Baraclough said.
“Kyle Lafferty got 90 minutes and scored, Conor Washington scored for Charlton, Josh Magennis scored for Hull and Bailey (Peacock-Farrell) has got a couple of games in at a competitive level.
“It’s all goes towards hopefully the lads getting together and there being a different feel to a month ago.”
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