Jonny Evans forced out of Northern Ireland squad after fresh injury on Leicester return

Jonny Evans has been forced to withdraw from the NI squad Credit: Pacemaker

Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans has withdrawn from Michael O'Neill's squad for the upcoming games against San Marino and Finland with a hamstring injury.

The 35-year-old returned to first-team action with Leicester as a late substitute against Chelsea earlier in March after nearly five months out, but missed Saturday's draw with Brentford.

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers said last week that the defender was expected to be fit after the Brentford game, but a fresh injury sustained during recovery from a long-term calf problem has ruled him out of international duty.

It comes as a blow to O'Neill who has spoken about a lack of experienced players available for his side's Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, with Evans one of three selections who had been a part of his first Northern Ireland squad during his previous spell in charge a decade ago.

Steven Davies and Corry Evans were also part of O'Neill's first squad in 2012 but will miss the upcoming internationals with injury, leaving Craig Cathcart and Shane Ferguson as the only pair to have been with the manager throughout.

Former Manchester United defender Evans had been set to captain the side in the absence of regular skipper Davies.

The manager had previously called on Middlesbrough's Paddy McNair, who has 56 caps, to step up in terms of leadership.

"What will be interesting about this window in particular is how we will cope without, at this moment in time, Steven, Corry, Stuart (Dallas), players that have been with me a long time," O'Neill told the PA news agency in March, before Evans' withdrawal.

"Players emerge all the time. You look at Paddy McNair, 27 years of age, McNair needs to become a huge player in this group, a really big player and he has to embrace that role."

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