Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Northern Ireland skipper Davis frustrated by familiar failings

Tuesday night was Groundhog Day for Steven Davis.

And the Northern Ireland captain has been left wondering what he has to do to win a game this season.

Luxembourg’s shock late equaliser not only denied Michael O’Neill his first win as international boss, it was also the FOURTH time this season that Davis has played in a team that has allowed a lead to slip away late in a game.

Since last month’s 3-3 draw with Finland in a Windsor Park friendly, when Northern Ireland led 2-0 after 20 minutes, Davis has faced both Manchester City and Manchester United in the Premier League with his new club Southampton.

The Saints led 2-1 in both games, but finished with nothing as the two Manchester club’s claimed dramatic 3-2 wins.

“It’s not getting any better and it’s something I want to put to bed as soon as possible,” said Davis.

“When you’re in a winning position going into the latter stages of matches you expect to go on and finish the job, but it’s becoming too common now with me at club and international level that we haven’t been able to do that.

“I can’t put my finger on one thing that is to blame, but we can’t allow it to keep on happening.

“It’s going to cost us points, be it with Southampton or Northern Ireland. It could mean the difference between a few places in the Premier League or competing in the World Cup group towards the end of the campaign and not being in the mix.”

Common opinion is that Northern Ireland’s second-half performance against Luxembourg was to blame for O’Neill failing to record his first win — and Davis has also yet to taste victory as captain of his country.

There were, however, numerous chances created, Kyle Lafferty hit the net only to be judged offside, while Chris Brunt saw what looked like a certain goal go begging when his shot struck the post.

Not getting the second goal was costly though and the mood in the stands and the dressing room was downbeat at best.

“The feeling is one of anger and disappointment, everything that you’d think about comes to mind after a result like that,” said Davis.

“First half we played well, we did everything that we wanted to do and we created chances.

“Second half we stopped doing the things were are good at, we stopped passing the ball and stopped getting it into the wide areas.

“There were a lot of offsides, a lot of free-kicks awarded and that stopped us from getting any rhythm going in the second half.

“The longer a game goes at 1-0 then you give teams the opportunity to hit back and unfortunately the deflected goal killed us in the end.

“I still felt we were comfortable in the game, but they were putting more pressure on us high up the pitch.

“We created enough chances to win a couple of games really, it’s just unfortunate that it didn’t happen.

“The shot for their goal took a wild deflection and from what I’m told it was going well wide without that. That just sums our night up as a whole.”

The realists among the Northern Ireland support admit that booking a flight to Rio in two summers time isn’t something they expect to be happen.

Third place in the group would be termed a success, but provided there are signs that things are improving, both in terms of performance and results the fans will accept that.

There is little doubt that O’Neill’s Northern Ireland are playing better football than the country has seen in years, but in a results driven business there needs to be a bit more.

“Looking over the two games against Russia and Luxembourg this is one we were definitely looking to win. We will have to reassess and go again in Portugal next month,” said Davis.

“You can look back to a few moments rather than putting the responsibility on one person, like Chris Brunt hitting the post or Kyle’s offside goal.

“In the Russia game there were positives, we knew what type of game it was going to be, but we kept our shape well. That’s something we’ll have to keep doing and then get it right at the other end too.”

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