Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Rangers miss the drive and guile of Steven Davis

Northern Ireland internationals Steven Davis (left) and Kyle Lafferty
Northern Ireland internationals and former Rangers players Steven Davis (left) and Kyle Lafferty

At a time when Rangers are stumbling towards the Scottish Third Division title, their supporters must be thinking back to last season wishing their former captain was in the side just now.

 Smiles better: Northern Ireland |midfield ace |Steve Davis

Rangers haven’t had it as easy as many thought they would this season. Having watched them many times it’s clear to me that they miss a midfield player who can dictate the game and link up the play from defence to attack.

Steve Davis of course would be a luxury for Rangers in Division Three but he’s the type of player Ally McCoist’s side are missing when it comes to dominating games and being creative.

Third Division sides have been resolute and resilient defensively and the midfield class of Davis for me has been the biggest miss for the Ibrox men.

When Steve left Ibrox last summer for Southampton it was always going to be difficult for McCoist to attract a player of his ability. I’m sure, like the fans, Ally would love to have his old talisman to rely on every Saturday.

Davis hasn’t had as much game time recently as he would like in the Premier League but one thing is for certain — on Friday night he’ll be the main man in Michael O’Neill’s team as Northern Ireland chase their first victory in Group F against leaders Russia.

I imagine Steve will be frustrated at his lack of minutes on the pitch for Southampton, but that can actually work in Northern Ireland's favour as he’ll be desperate to play and be chomping at the bit come kick off time on Friday night.

Davis on top of his game is something the Green and White Army love to see. He's a big crowd favourite and if we are to beat the Russians, I'm sure he'll have played a pivotal role.

With O’Neill likely to deploy a three man midfield, that should give Davis the licence to get forward and into the final third of the pitch which is where he is at his best.

Having a defensive midfield player behind Steve will free him up to get close to the front three players, allowing him to hopefully cause damage.

I believe his runs into the box can cause the Russians problems but most importantly his ability to see a pass in condensed spaces will be crucial as we look to break down a strong Russian back line who have yet to concede a goal in qualifying.

There’s no doubt Russia are a good side, the Group F table doesn’t lie. We have been here before, however, as a country when we are the underdogs and people write us off at their peril.

There will be players in the squad who have fond memories of upsetting the odds at Windsor Park, like Aaron Hughes, Jonny Evans, David Healy and Davis.

This kind of experience is invaluable when big games come around and it will help the younger players in the squad.

When you break the game down on Friday night how we do will depend a lot on what we do without the ball as much as what we do with it.

If we replicate our team shape and discipline produced in Portugal it will give us a great base to attack from.

We can't rely on David Healy to win games on his own for us these days, so all round organisation against Russia is the key for me.

As ever I know our fans will be looking forward to the game at Windsor and maybe, just maybe, the time has come for a Steve Davis-inspired Northern Ireland to rise again.

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