Northern Ireland: Jonny Evans back for World Cup qualifiers

Leicester City defender Jonny Evans has been struggling with a foot injury
Leicester City defender Jonny Evans has been struggling with a foot injury

Leicester City defender Jonny Evans has returned to the Northern Ireland squad for October's World Cup qualifiers in Switzerland and Bulgaria.

The 33-year-old missed September's qualifiers with Lithuania and Switzerland with a foot injury.

Evans managed his first full 90 minutes of the season in Leicester's League Cup win over Millwall on 22 September.

Stuart Dallas, Corry Evans and Josh Magennis also return after missing September's matches.

Leeds United utility man Dallas sat out the win over Lithuania and draw with Switzerland through personal reasons while Evans and Magennis missed the games through injury.

Accrington Stanley forward Dion Charles is included despite not featuring for the club's first-team since 11 September following a contract dispute.

Stanley manager John Coleman confirmed the 25-year-old had been left out of the first-team for not showing "commitment"external-link to the club after a Scottish club launched a "paltry" bid on deadline day for the striker.

However there is no place for Anorthosis Famagusta forward Kyle Lafferty or Hearts striker Liam Boyce, with the latter making himself unavailable for selection.

Northern Ireland face Switzerland on 9 October before travelling to Bulgaria three days later.

Ian Baraclough's men sit third in Group C, three points behind Switzerland in second position and nine back on runaway leaders and European champions Italy.

The NI boss, who took the job in June 2020 on an 18-month contract is hopeful of extending his deal beyond the current qualifying campaign.

"I'm enjoying what I'm doing. We're at the start of a new cycle to try and put together a team that can challenge for major tournaments," he said.

"If it doesn't happen this time around hopefully Ill be in charge come the next Euros campaign.

"We've got a plan at the IFA that we've spoken about in bringing young players through.

"We needed to make the pool of players bigger so things like that [a contract extension] take care of themselves."

NI 'won't risk or gamble' Evans

After a convincing win over Lithuania and a battling draw with higher-ranked Switzerland, with a 1-0 friendly win over Estonia in between, Baraclough said it is important to "build on the momentum" his side have put together.

He added the return of the Evans brothers, Dallas and Magennis is "big for the group", and said he will manage Jonny Evans' game time to ensure he gets the best out of the defender.

"Jonny's presence and experience speaks for itself, and hopefully he comes through this week's games to be able to join up with us," said Baraclough.

"Managing him, and Brendan [Rodgers, Leicester City manager] is doing that at the club, is important. I'll be guided by him and the medical people.

"We are not going to put anyone at risk or gamble with anyone, and Jonny is in as good a position as anyone to make that call.

"We will make sure when he does come into camp we will look after him properly and make sure he is right. If he is not quite right, then between myself, Jonny and Brendan we will make that call."

Door is open for Boyce

Despite the returning quartet, Baraclough is again without Boyce who has been in strong form for Hearts at the start of the Scottish Premiership season.

Just like in September, the 30-year-old asked not to be considered for selection for family reasons, and while Baraclough said he understands and respects his decision, he added "the door will always be open for him".

"He has had a really good start for Hearts, scoring goals and his confidence is high," added the 50-year-old.

"It's a big ask for players to come away from their family and Liam is no different to anybody else.

"I respect everyone's decision when it comes to that. We have spoken and had good dialogue about it. I understand his position on it.

"You want people who are in form and Liam is in form, so for me he is someone who would have come right into the equation but unfortunately it's not a possibility at the moment."

Shayne Lavery
Shayne Lavery scored his first senior international goal away to Lithuania in September.

While Boyce is unavailable, Baraclough hopes Shayne Lavery can carry his strong domestic form with Blackpool into the international set-up.

Lavery, who joined Blackpool from Irish Premiership champions Linfield in the summer, netted his first senior Northern Ireland goal in September's win over Lithuania.

"He has played his part in a really good start for Blackpool. He is in form, he is scoring goals, he is full of energy, pace and power. He gives you that threat in behind and gives something a little bit different to the others," Baraclough said of the 22-year-old.

"To have players in form and full of confidence is all you can ask for. We will look after Shayne, we realise he will have ups and downs as a young player but he has put himself right in the frame to spearhead the attack."

Northern Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Sheffield Wednesday, on loan from Burnley), Trevor Carson (Dundee United), Conor Hazard (Celtic).

Defenders: Jonny Evans (Leicester City), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Shane Ferguson (Rotherham United), Jamal Lewis (Newcastle United), Michael Smith (Heart of Midlothian), Daniel Ballard (Millwall, on loan from Arsenal), Tom Flanagan (Sunderland), Ciaron Brown (Cardiff City).

Midfielders: Steven Davis (Rangers), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Corry Evans (Sunderland), Paddy McNair (Middlesbrough), George Saville (Millwall), Gavin Whyte (Oxford United, on loan from Cardiff City), Jordan Thompson (Stoke City), Jordan Jones (Wigan Athletic), Alistair McCann (Preston North End), Conor Bradley (Liverpool).

Forwards: Josh Magennis (Hull City), Conor Washington (Charlton Athletic), Shayne Lavery (Blackpool), Dion Charles (Accrington Stanley).

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