Jonny Evans will still play a key role for Northern Ireland says Michael O’Neill, amid the fallout of his domestic six-game ban for spitting.
The FA rapped Evans when they found him guilty of spitting at Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse, despite the Manchester United star denying the charge.
But this will have no impact on the defender’s international football, and he will be Northern Ireland’s top left-back against Scotland on March 25.
NI boss O’Neill said: “I have spoken at length with him and I am absolutely convinced it is just an unfortunate situation and he did nothing intentionally.
“He will still be our vice-captain and will feature. I know he’ll be fit for Scotland.
“Anyone who knows him will know he’s not capable of doing something like that intentionally.
“In fact, had he done this, he would have come forward and said so, and put his hands up.
“The pictures are pretty damning and he has acknowledged that. I spoke to him, he was totally unaware that this had become a spitting incident until the next morning.
“I do have a certain sympathy with the panel though, they are not basing this decision on what they know of the player, just what’s in front of them, and the evidence was not particularly positive from Jonny’s perspective, it has been an unfortunate incident.
“It won’t affect him with me in any way though, he is obviously very deeply upset about it and given how people view him. Someone’s reputation can be damaged in a moment and he was concerned about that.”
Left-back is currently a problematic position for O’Neill.
Shane Ferguson is still battling slightly with fitness since moving to Rangers, and Danny Lafferty is continuing to try to rediscover form, on loan to Rotherham from Burnley.
Evans is therefore expected to be a key player in friendlies against Qatar on May 31 and Wales four days later, ahead of the Romania qualifier on June 13.
O’Neill added: “He is still very much a big part of the squad and our vice-captain.
“I know he will come fit and ready to play.
“The sad thing is, I thought he was very comfortable in the game against Newcastle, he had come back into the side with two wins and this incident will interrupt that but I know he’ll make sure he’ll be fit.”