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No more time for celebration, says Northern Ireland’s Jonny Evans

Northern Ireland v Netherlands – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group C – Windsor Park
(Image credit: Liam McBurney)

Jonny Evans insisted Northern Ireland must park their celebrations following Thursday’s win over Bosnia and Herzegovina and put their full focus on Sunday’s Nations League clash against Austria.

Emotions are still running high after Liam Boyce struck the winning penalty in a shoot-out in Sarajevo, keeping Northern Ireland in the running for a second consecutive European Championships as they advance to a qualifying play-off final at home to Slovakia next month.

But, while both Evans and manager Ian Baraclough spoke about building on the momentum of Thursday’s win, the Leicester defender said the players must focus on the next task in hand.

“The play-off final is a big deal for us, we’ve put ourselves in a great position,” he said. “After the game there were celebrations on the pitch and in the dressing room.

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“But we have to forget about that, we have two games coming up and we’ll just try and prepare, get our bodies ready. They are still a bit tired.

“Some of the guys haven’t played an awful lot of football, so it’s about getting up to speed and hopefully we can put another good performance in.”

Even so, Evans admitted Thursday’s win was the sort of moment that will stick with the players, and something he only appreciates more in the later stages of his career.

“When you’re younger you maybe don’t take it in the same way,” the 32-year-old said. “My debut was against Spain and that was a big night and a big win – I just thought that was the norm, beating teams like that.

“I had another couple of big results, but maybe in the last number of years you do cherish it. Sometimes you doubt if you’re going to get to experience moments like that again.”

With Thursday’s match postponed from its original date back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, this is the first of two intensive international windows, with three matches squeezed into seven days.

After facing Austria at Windsor Park, Northern Ireland will be back on their travels as they take on Norway in Oslo on Wednesday night.

Baraclough will consider changes but only those deemed necessary, with the Nations League higher up the list of priorities than it was in the inaugural edition two years ago.

Ian Baraclough File Photo

Ian Baraclough would not be drawn on whether he would make sweeping changes (Liam McBurney/PA)

“We want to do well in the Nations League and give ourselves a chance to be in a decent pot for the World Cup draw,” he said. “You want to maintain the momentum that wins like the other night give you.

“If you are trying to imply we take the foot off the gas, no we won’t, but if you have to look after one or two players, yes, we will do.”

Thursday was Baraclough’s first win since taking the Northern Ireland job, a footnote given the importance of the match itself but something the 49-year-old can savour.

“It’s nice when you speak to family members and friends and you see the euphoria of it and what it gives to the fans and what it means to people,” he said. “As a professional that’s what you are trying to give and to make people happy. That’s what we take from the night.

“I don’t know if managers and coaches look at it differently to players at times, but you think of the next one and we have only done half the job. You are straight on to the next one and you are thinking about Slovakia.

“You are cautious a little bit, but you do have to enjoy your good moments.”