Belfast Telegraph

Wales v Northern Ireland: Fight for spot on plane to France will add spice in Cardiff, insists Davis

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis believes there will be an edge to tonight's friendly against Wales because players are so desperate to pin down places in the respective Euro 2016 squads.

With no points at stake, there is a fear that the encounter in Cardiff could end up having a training match feel to it, but the Southampton midfielder rejects that claim.

Davis, set to win his 80th cap, insists the derby of sorts at Cardiff City Stadium is going to be a competitive encounter.

"I think there will be an edge to the game but that comes down to people playing for their places at the Euros more than the fact we're playing Wales and that rivalry," said Davis, such an influential figure in Northern Ireland qualifying for France.

"It will be a good game for both teams and the pitch is lively which will play a part.

"We are on a good run of form and want to keep the momentum going and keep the confidence in the squad. Getting good results will do that.

"It's a match we are looking forward to and obviously we're coming off the high of qualification, just like Wales, who I'm sure will make it difficult for us.

"As a squad we haven't been together for a few months so it is great to be together again and it will be good for Michael (O'Neill) to go over his ideas and reiterate everything about how we want to play.

"It's also great to see a few new faces in the squad and that gives everyone a lift. It's obviously important for everyone to stake their claim for a place on the plane. I'm sure it will be a high tempo game."

Those new faces include Conor Washington, sure to play at some point, and Michael Smith, hoping to earn his first cap.

Already the pair of them have bought into the spirit existing in the camp.

On the eve of tonight's friendly, Davis was asked what the secret of the team's success was down to.

His answer summed up the 'one for all, all for one' attitude.

"It's all in the word 'team'," stated Davis, who started his international career over a decade ago. "We're not blessed with the best individuals in the world but the way we work together collectively makes us a force.

"And if we play to our strengths, we can cause teams problems and get results."

Quizzed on manager O'Neill's new four-year contract with the Irish FA, former Rangers star Davis was positive as the boss, sat beside him at last night's press conference, listened on.

"The players are pleased. We've all enjoy working under Michael and I think people can see that in our performances," said the skipper, who collected the 2015 Vauxhall Northern Ireland Player of the Year award, as voted by the supporters.

"It's great news for us that the IFA have managed to tie him down and hopefully he can be here for a long time to come."

There was a special guest at training and in the team hotel yesterday - West Brom's Chris Brunt, who has been ruled out of the Euro finals due to injury.

"It was good for Brunty to come down at a really difficult time for him," said Davis.

"Everybody is gutted for him but we were delighted to see him.

"Hopefully he will come out and be a part of the squad in some capacity in the summer."

Belfast Telegraph