Jonny Evans insists Ian Baraclough still has the backing of the Northern Ireland dressing room as attention turns to next year’s Euro 2024 qualifying campaign after a dismal Nations League run.
Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat to Greece will have implications next year; although Northern Ireland avoided the threat of relegation, with only one win in six they will still drop down the rankings and face the prospect of a more daunting qualifying draw.
After the match in Athens, Baraclough heard boos when he went to applaud the travelling fans, with isolated chants of ‘We want Bara out’, but although the match was far from how Evans wanted to mark his 100th cap he believes the team are still moving in the right direction.
“Definitely,” the Leicester defender said when asked if the players support the manager. “I think he is progressing every time, I think you could see how we defended (against Greece).
“We wanted to try and hit them on the counter-attack away from home and it was working well apart from two mistakes that led to their first two goals.
“I think it has been a difficult six games (across the Nations League).
“We have spoken before about the players who were missing for the summer games and I think these games, it was a great evening against Kosovo to win (2-1 in Belfast on Saturday), with everyone back in the squad I think you could see a difference.”
Evans has seen plenty of highs and lows since making his debut 16 years ago, and said Baraclough had steered Northern Ireland through a difficult rebuilding phase.
“We have had a big turnaround in players,” he said. “The summer month was difficult, losing key players at that time, having Stuart Dallas out of the squad.
“You can see Ian is bringing in a lot of young players, putting his trust in them a lot. We have got a lot of good young players coming in and hopefully they can gain experience from this.”
But there was no denying the frustration of many in the away end at the final whistle – something Evans could understand given Northern Ireland’s inability to win any of their four games in June – including home and away fixtures against basement boys Cyprus.
“You do feel you let the fans down, especially in the home games,” he said. “I felt disappointed for the fans. It is incredible the number of fans who have come out to Greece.
“We aren’t trying to win the group and they are still here supporting us right to the end. You do have that sadness and disappointment for them.”
Such was Evans’ own disappointment at the final whistle that he forgot all about his landmark cap, swapping his shirt with a Greece player and walking past his own family before remembering to go to find them.
The result was not the only thing to leave a sour taste. Although the majority of Greece fans were welcoming, a small number threw objects including bottles towards Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s goal in the second half – a matter expected to be reviewed by UEFA once the referee’s report has been sent.
“I was disappointed with the amount of objects being thrown on to the pitch,” Evans said. “That’s my 100th cap now and I have been in some hostile atmospheres but I’ve never seen that personally.
“I don’t think it is right, especially for Bailey in the second half having to put up with that and deal with that. You could be hit at any time.
“There were also times with corners that you felt like you could be hit with something. The players over here seem to know how to handle it. Maybe it’s normal, I don’t know.”
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