Ian Baraclough is confident Jonny Evans will be fit for Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers next month but said the Leicester defender will make the final decision as he manages injury problems.
Evans has been named in Northern Ireland’s 26-man squad for games away to Switzerland and Bulgaria on October 9 and 12 respectively – strengthening Baraclough’s options as Stuart Dallas, Corry Evans and Josh Magennis also return having missed qualifiers earlier this month.
Jonny Evans, who has been dealing with a troublesome foot injury for several months, was an unused substitute in Leicester’s 2-2 draw with Burnley at the weekend, but has played 165 minutes across three matches since missing the last set of internationals.
“Jonny at the moment is someone we’re going to have to manage,” Baraclough said. “Hopefully he comes through this week’s games unscathed and builds on the game time he’s had with Leicester so far, but he’s in a better place than what he was a few weeks ago.
“Having spoken to Brendan (Rodgers), it’s a case where we have to be careful with him and manage his game time. Ultimately Jonny will be the one to make a decision. He knows his body and what he can and can’t do.”
Magennis and Conor Washington have both been named in the squad despite missing games for Hull and Charlton respectively this past weekend through injury, but Baraclough said he had spoken to both forwards and expected them to be “ready and raring to go” this weekend.
With Paddy McNair back from the suspension that ruled him out of the goalless draw with Switzerland in Belfast, Baraclough has a much stronger looking group this time around – though still with space for the young players who impressed last time out as Conor Bradley gets another call-up.
“For Northern Ireland to be able to call upon the strongest squad possible is always key,” Baraclough said.
“Yes we were missing certain influential players last month, but the players that came in during that period did a fantastic job and have shown us we’ve got a stronger squad now than maybe we did a year ago. I think it shows there’s a competitive nature now to the squad and people aren’t shoo-ins.”
Kyle Lafferty must settle for a place on the reserve list after a recent injury setback, with Baraclough preferring to stick with Dion Charles despite the Accrington striker not having featured for his club since September 11, while Liam Boyce remains unavailable for family reasons.
The draw with Switzerland at Windsor Park on September 8 kept Northern Ireland three points behind Murat Yakin’s side in the battle for second place in Group C and the play-off place it would bring.
But though Northern Ireland will be reinforced in Geneva, the Swiss should be too as they expect a number of players back from injury.
“They certainly had key figures missing in Belfast,” Baraclough said. “I expect them to have Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo back in the squad, key players for them in the Euros, so both squads will be stronger. It’s going to be a tight game for us.
“Certainly as the amount of games (remaining) starts to decrease, you don’t want to be relying on other results.
“If we can take care of our own business and get a result in Switzerland it would be massive going into Bulgaria because it’s then in your hands, we’d go above Switzerland in the table and it’s imperative we do that. That’s the message to the players – take it into November.”