Amid a huge number of international friendlies, Northern Ireland meet Azerbaijan in a World Cup qualifier. Jaymes Monte previews this Wednesday nighter where both sides seek their first win of the campaign...
"Evans’ absence could be a mitigating factor in the outcome of this game."
Michael O'Neill recorded the biggest result of his managerial career last month as Northern Ireland held Portugal to a 1-1 draw in Porto. The point doubled Northern Ireland's tally for the campaign, but it was a draw in their previous home game with Luxembourg that means that Norn Iron still have it all to do in order to put themselves in the qualification picture.
Two points from three games would not have been in the gameplan, but O'Neill's side have travelled to Russia and Portugal in that period and therefore know that their toughest games, on paper, are behind them. Victory over Azerbaijan would at least keep them in the hunt, although the strength of the group suggests progress is unlikely.
Azerbaijan are also seeking their first win of the campaign, having lost to Russia and Portugal after an opening-game draw with Israel. Berti Vogts' side are, however, an improving team that should not be underestimated having recently recorded victories over Bahrain, India and Albania, as well as that impressive point against Israel, but also beating Kazakhstan and holding Belgium to a 1-1 draw in qualification for Euro 2012 last year.
O'Neill will be without Grant McCann, Jonny Evans, Andrew Little and Alex Bruce on Wednesday night. Billy McKay, Daniel Lafferty and Ryan McLaughlin have all been called up as replacements.
Evans' absence could be a mitigating factor in the outcome of this game. The draw in Portugal was thanks in no small part to the superb performance of the Manchester Untied defender and without him I can see the visitors getting on the scoresheet.
As for the Match Odds itself I have to fall on the side of the hosts with odds of [1.74] available to back. Although Azerbaijan are a capable side Northern Ireland can use that draw in Portugal to now start pushing forwards. It had been an gruelling baptism in international management for O'Neill up until last month, but he can now shake the proverbial monkey from his back and record that first win as manager of his country this midweek.
Back Over 2.5 goals @ [2.44]
Back Northern Ireland to win @ [1.74]