Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Saints' great form is a boost for Davis

On message: Northern Ireland skipper Steve Davis is relishing the competition for places at Southampton

Northern Ireland captain Steve Davis is enjoying life at the business end of the Premier League – even if it means battling for a regular starting spot.

Davis' decision to join Southampton last summer is already looking like one of the shrewdest of his career, with Saints confounding expectations to sit third in the table after 11 matches.

Hard to believe it may be but Davis can currently boast about sitting two points and two places above international team-mate Jonny Evans' Manchester United.

Of course, it may not stay that way as the campaign unfolds but what is clear is that Michael O'Neill can safely claim to have another player mixing it at the very highest level in one of the world's toughest leagues.

"I'm enjoying my football at the moment," said Davis on the eve of tonight's friendly against Turkey.

"It's still early doors this season, but you can see we're ambitious and you can see how the manager (Mauricio Pochettino) sets us up to be brave and attack. We try to dominate position.

"A lot stems from the chairman (Nicola Cortese) as well. When I signed what they portrayed to me in the talks has been backed up.

"It's been an unbelievable rise for Southampton from League One to where we are at this point in time but it's still just a start and there's a lot more room for progression."

One of the reasons for Saints' improvement on last season's 14th-placed finish is an improved strength in depth, with £12m Victor Wanyama now vying with Davis for a central midfield berth alongside Morgan Schneiderlin.

The former Old Firm rivals – who crossed swords twice in the 2011/12 season with Wanyama starting out at Celtic and Davis in his last year with Rangers – represent two differing options in the middle of the park.

Davis has managed three goals this season, as well as one for Northern Ireland in Israel last month, while Wanyama is yet to get off the mark, but he accepts he will not always get the nod.

"The way we play at Southampton and the position the manager has been playing me allows me to find pockets of space and get further up the pitch," he said.

"I always try to improve finishing in training. Luckily enough I've managed to get on the end of a couple this season and hopefully I'll get a few more.

"It's always important for midfielders to get into the box and help out with assists and goals and I've managed to do that a bit this season. I want to continue and get a good return.

"But I picked up an injury at a bad time and it's hard to get back in. I probably have to bide my time now and wait for my chance."

Davis will be hoping for a second win as national skipper at the Adana Ocak Stadum tonight, but with Turkey starting as favourites he would probably settle for a repeat of the 1-1 Rangers managed on a Champions League trip to Bursaspor in December 2010.

"It was a good atmosphere and we did quite well – winning the home leg and drawing away – it was a good experience," he said of his last visit to the country."

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