Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis eager to stamp passport for France in Belfast

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis believes the team can live up to the expectation of the fans next month and defeat Greece at Windsor Park to qualify for the Euro 2016 finals.

Davis was in fine form again for his country in Monday night's 1-1 draw with Hungary in Belfast which edged Michael O'Neill's side closer to the finishing line with 'Welcome to France' written on the tape.

In the biggest race of their football lives, the bell has sounded and Davis and his team-mates are intent on making sure the last lap is followed by mass celebrations all over Northern Ireland.

If Northern Ireland were to secure two draws in their final two matches at home to Greece and away to Finland next month, they would be assured of a top two place in Group F and qualification.

Davis, though, is keen to turn the dream into reality on October 8 when O'Neill's side host bottom of the table Greece, knowing victory would complete the job.

"I think everyone is surprised where Greece are in the group because they've got a lot of quality and we know it will be a tough game, but with it being at Windsor, and with the fans behind us, it is one we're expected to win," said the Southampton midfielder.

"If you ask anyone you want to get it wrapped up as soon as possible and it would be great to do it in front of our own fans."

Chris Baird's dismissal against Hungary was right call rules chief

Davis voiced his opinion that the hard earned 1-1 draw with the Hungarians will prove crucial. He praised the spirit in the side after going a goal and then a man down, following Chris Baird's much talked about dismissal, with Kyle Lafferty's injury-time strike providing relief and joy in equal measure.

"To show the character we did, coming from a goal down and going down to 10 men, we'll take that," said the 30-year-old.

"Everyone was so up for the game, we wanted to tie things up against Hungary and that would have been the fairytale, but it was a difficult match and now with two games left, qualification is still within our grasp.

"That point against Hungary and Kyle's goal could prove to be vital, because it means they have to win their two games.

"The fans were magnificent with their backing, especially in those last 20 minutes and again they've got a massive part to play against Greece."

Conor McLaughlin is gutted to miss crunch Greece game

Davis will patrol the midfield for the Greek game without his buddy Baird beside him. The Derby County player is suspended following his red card, which came about after Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir cautioned the Rasharkin native twice in the space of a few seconds for an off the ball challenge that few saw inside the ground and an ill advised lunging foul that was witnessed by everyone.

Lafferty and Conor McLaughlin, who picked up their third bookings of the campaign on Monday, will also be missing for the visit of Greece, though all three will be available for the final match in Helsinki against Finland on October 11.

On Baird's sending off, Davis admitted: "It's not something I've ever seen before.

"I spoke to the referee and I thought it was a case of mistaken identity but he explained he had played the advantage after the first challenge.

"Our frustration is if he gives a free-kick for the first challenge then Chris doesn't make the second one. Now he's going to be a big miss because he plays a big role and he's been great for us this campaign.

"We've been quite fortunate with injuries and suspensions in this campaign but unfortunately we're going to have three in the one game now. The suspensions, though, give others an opportunity to come in and show what they can do.

"It will be a great opportunity for the players coming in to put in big performances and hopefully help take the team to the Euro finals. It was always going to be a squad effort and we just need one last push now.

"If you asked the boys they'd like to stay together and get those couple of games out of the way now, but we'll go back to our clubs and concentrate on our clubs and then look forward to joining up again next month."

Back training this week, Davis won't have too long to wait until he meets up with his international pals because Southampton are away at West Brom on Saturday, meaning there could be the odd sight of seeing four Northern Ireland players in a Premier League game at the same time.

Davis should be in the Saints line-up and is set to face Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt and Jonny Evans, who signed for Albion from Manchester United.

Davis has some massive games coming up including at home to United on Sunday week and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge just a few days prior to the Euro qualifiers with Greece and Finland when he could follow in the footsteps of legendary figures Danny Blanchflower, Martin O'Neill and Sammy McIlroy in leading Northern Ireland to the finals of a major championship.

Belfast Telegraph