Davis embracing new style in the battle for cherished victory
Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis has explained that it will take a different approach as they go about trying to add the name of Russia to the notable scalps that have been taken in Belfast over the last decade — because they have to.
Under the management of Lawrie Sanchez and Nigel Worthington the team battled their way to memorable victories over England, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Slovenia at Windsor Park.
Now, however, Michael O’Neill’s men will have to play their way to picking up maximum points.
And it seems that the change of tactics is down more to necessity rather than design.
“The players that we’ve got and the system that we play suits us a lot better and works to our strengths,” said Davis.
“The physicality maybe isn’t one of our strengths now.”
O’Neill is still searching for his first win since being appointed in January last year.
Both he and the players insist that progress has been made in the last 15 months and certainly the quality of football that the team has played is much better than in any time in the recent past.
There was no shortage of scoring chances being created in the last home game against Azerbaijan, but it took a late David Healy equaliser to prevent an embarrassing defeat.
“We’ve obviously been disappointed that we haven’t managed to win a game, but if you analyse the games the performance levels have actually been good,” said Davis.
“We’ve just missed out on a little bit of fortune in some of the games and things haven’t gone our way. One of the things that has been to our detriment in this campaign is the number of chances we’ve created and we haven’t been able to put them away.
“Russia don’t concede too many chances, so if we get an opportunity to score then we have to take it, but if we keep playing the way we have done then I think it’s only a matter of time before we win a game.”
The high point of the campaign so far came away to Portugal in October, when Northern Ireland were 11 minutes away from a famous victory.
Although a draw would have been acceptable before the game — as it probably would be today — there was as much disappointment after that match as there was following the home games against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan either side of it, which both also finished 1-1.
Now Davis wants another Portugal style display.
“We’re up against another top nation and we have to show the same hunger and desire to close the Russians down as we did against Portugal and make it difficult for them while keeping our shape as well,” said Davis.
“The fans and the players got a massive boost from the result in Portugal and we’ll be trying to do the same against Russia.
“We won’t underestimate them by any means, but over the course of the campaign if we’d had a bit of fortune along the way we’d be sitting in a much healthier position that we are.
“You always go out with the mindset of trying to win a game no matter who you are playing against, so that’s the aim.
“We know it’s going to be another tough test for us, like it was in Moscow.”