Euro 2020 play-off final: NI defender Jonny Evans expected to be fit for game with Slovakia

NI defender Jonny Evans
Leicester City defender Jonny Evans is a mainstay of the Northern Ireland defence

Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans is expected to be fit for Northern Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off final with Slovakia after missing Leicester City’s last two games with a back injury.

Evans is included in manager Ian Baraclough’s 26-man squad for the key match at Windsor Park on 12 November.

NI also play Austria and Romania in the Nations League in a triple-header.

Conor Hazard, Man United midfielder Ethan Galbraith and St Johnstone’s Matthew Kennedy receive call-ups.

Celtic goalkeeper Hazard replaces Motherwell stopper Trevor Carson, who was injured in a league match at the end of October and will be out of action until early next year.

Galbraith, who recently signed a new contract with Manchester United, and fellow midfielder Kennedy, who missed out on the last squad through injury, replace Oxford United’s Joel Cooper and Jordan Jones, who has not been selected after being suspended by Rangers for a breach of Covid-19 regulations.

Following the suspension, Baraclough had indicated that the player would not be part of his squad for the forthcoming games.

Galbraith and Hazard are both promoted from the NI Under-21 set-up.

After the crunch tie with the Slovakians in Belfast, NI face an away Nations League match with Austria three days later and then a home fixture against Romania in the same competition on 18 November.

Baraclough’s side qualified for the play-off final courtesy of a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in October after the match in Sarajevo ended 1-1 after extra time.

Slovakia saw off the Republic of Ireland on penalties in the other semi-final following a goalless draw between the sides in Bratislava.

Ethan Galbraith
Ethan Galbraith is promoted from the Northern Ireland Under-21 squad

A victory for Northern Ireland would see them qualify for successive European Championship finals tournaments, having competed at Euro 2016 under then manager Michael O’Neill.

Progression to next summer’s finals would represent a major feather in the cap of Baraclough, who was appointed manager of the senior team in June and took charge of his first match in September.

A place in Group E of next summer’s finals with Spain, Sweden and Poland is the prize on offer for the team that progresses from the play-off decider next week.

The Irish FA hope at least 600 fans will be admitted to the match but no figure for the number of spectators permitted to attend has yet been finalised.

Despite getting past the Republic last month, Slovakia replaced manager Pavel Hapal with temporary boss Stefan Tarkovic in late October.

Jordan Jones
Jordan Jones has been charged by the Scottish FA after a breach of Covid regulations

Like Northern Ireland, they qualified for a Euro finals for the first time in 2016 and also in common with Northern Ireland, made it to the last 16 stage of the competition.

While the play-off final with Slovakia will take centre stage in the upcoming international window, NI’s third triple-header of the autumn will also see them try to secure a first win of their Nations League campaign.

Baraclough will be keen to see an improvement in his side’s fortunes in that competition, with just one point to show from their opening four matches.

An encouraging 1-1 draw in Romania was followed by a heavy 5-1 home defeat by Norway, a 1-0 reverse at home to Austria and a loss by the same scoreline in Norway.

Northern Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Burnley), Michael McGovern (Norwich City), Conor Hazard (Celtic).

Defenders: Jonathan Evans (Leicester City), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Conor McLaughlin (Sunderland), Jamal Lewis (Newcastle United), Michael Smith (Heart of Midlothian), Tom Flanagan (Sunderland), Daniel Ballard (Arsenal).

Midfielders: Steven Davis (Rangers), Corry Evans (Blackburn Rovers), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Patrick McNair (Middlesbrough), George Saville (Middlesbrough), Gavin Whyte (Cardiff City), Matthew Kennedy (Aberdeen), Jordan Thompson (Stoke City), Ethan Galbraith (Manchester United), Alistair McCann (St Johnstone).

Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Reggina), Josh Magennis (Hull City), Conor Washington (Charlton Athletic), Liam Boyce (Heart of Midlothian).

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