Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis happy to tell IFA he wants Michael O'Neill to continue

Watching brief: captain Steven Davis and Chris Baird sat out training last night but should be good to go tonight

Steven Davis is prepared to give Irish FA chiefs a nudge in the right direction if they drag their feet over a new contract for manager Michael O'Neill.

Support among some fans has wavered following the limp display in Luxembourg and Friday night's 2-0 defeat in Azerbaijan, but the IFA seem confident that O'Neill can turn Northern Ireland's fortunes around.

That is a view heartily shared by captain Davis, who would happily share his opinions with the association should the opportunity arise.

"I've enjoyed working with Michael and I feel we're not far away from being a decent side," said the Southampton man ahead of tonight's final World Cup qualifier against Israel.

"I think the players are quite open to giving (the IFA) any advice that they want to be taken.

"I think we've all enjoyed working with Michael and his staff even though results have been disappointing in the campaign.

"Our frustration stems from the fact that we feel we haven't got what we deserved from some games.

"But we feel we are on the right path and hopefully the experience gained in this campaign will stand us in good stead for the next Euros."

Davis, who was handed the armband by O'Neill at the beginning of his tenure despite previous skipper Aaron Hughes' decision to reverse his international retirement, has taken the role seriously.

He is an ever present in World Cup qualifying and has fronted up to the media at every turn, no matter how vexing the results.

The 28-year-old midfielder admits he has take the team's struggles harder than most, but went to the well one more time to call for a big push from his team-mates in Tel Aviv tonight.

"You learn all the time. It's probably been an extra frustration for me as captain, maybe I feel it more than if I was just a player," he added.

"We need to finish on a high now and get a good performance and a good result in Israel.

"Without doubt we don't want to finish on a run of defeats, but we know it will be tough.

"Israel are a good side and a threat going forward, but we want to finish on a high for ourselves and give us something looking forward."

Given Northern Ireland's struggles against the lesser nations and stronger performances against the likes of Russia and Portugal of late, they might even be better placed to take on Israel now that recent results have rendered them heavy underdogs.

"We tried to play the way we know we can in Azerbaijan after the disappointment in Luxembourg but we seemed to get punished any time we moved out of position," said Davis.

"So I'm sure Israel will see the same opportunity as we do, to win the match. It should be a good game, but we know it will be a difficult game."

With Oliver Norwood banned O'Neill must find a new midfield partner for Davis and Chris Brunt, with the experienced duo of Chris Baird and Sammy Clingan both on hand to return to be handed a first international apperance of the season. Baird might also offer a solution at centre-back, where Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley are also suspended.

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