Belfast Telegraph

Injured captain Steven Davis urges NI to claim win in Romania

By Paul Ferguson

Devastated Steven Davis is convinced Northern Ireland have the firepower to win in Bucharest without him.

The inspirational international skipper was ruled out of tomorrow night’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania after failing to recover from a hamstring injury sustained during Southampton’s FA Premier League clash with Leicester City last Saturday at St Mary’s.

Davis, in the heart of midfield, has been instrumental in Northern Ireland taking pole position in Group F after three consecutive victories over Hungary, the Faroe Islands and Greece.

But this game has come too soon for the former Rangers star, who underwent medical tests yesterday morning, and he returned to his club for further treatment as Michael O’Neill’s men flew into the Romanian capital late last night.

He joins Jonny Evans, Jamie Ward, Shane Ferguson and Ryan McLaughlin on the sidelines.

However, Romania are also without five key players while experienced defender Aaron Hughes has recovered from an ankle injury and is fit to play in the back four against Romania, who lie second in Group F with seven points from their opening three games, two points behind Northern Ireland.

“I’m absolutely gutted that I won’t make the game,” conceded a despondent Davis.

“There is great mood and belief in the squad, we have had some great wins, we are top of the group and I was desperate to play.

“Sadly I just haven’t recovered in time.

“I’ll be cheering the boys on in Bucharest from home and I’m confident they can get a result.”

O’Neill is frustrated to lose his captain fantastic, but he has now challenged his players to grasp their opportunity against Romania in Davis’ absence.

West Brom skipper Chris Brunt, who is back in the squad after injury, Niall McGinn, Sammy Clingan, Corry Evans and Ben Reeves are now in line to replace Davis in the centre of midfield.

And O’Neill is adamant his squad are well equipped to deal without their well respected leader.

“Steven has produced high level performances on a consistent basis and he will be missed,” admitted O’Neill last night.

“Since the injury on Saturday I kept in touch with him and I always felt it was going to be a tall order for him to recover in time.

“But we have a number of options,” continued O’Neill. “Now is the chance for a player to step up and to be fair in this campaign, when we’ve asked a player to step up they’ve done just that. I’ve no concerns about that.”

O’Neill must now pick a new captain and Gareth McAuley leads the race for the armband.

“I’ve decided on the captain but I would like to notify him personally,” added O’Neill.

Davis’ team-mates felt their captain’s pain as they travelled to Bucharest without him.

Winger McGinn, who could take Davis’ place, said: “ We are all hugely disappointed.

“No-one does more than Davo. He’s our captain, he’s definitely our leader on the pitch and he’s done so well for us for a number of years.

“It’s a massive miss for us but there are other players who can come in and do a good job.

“It will show the strength in depth and we can cover him.”

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