Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland hero Conor Washington will keep on dazzling us: captain Steven Davis

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis is convinced that new Windsor Park hero Conor Washington will prove to be a big asset to the country for years to come.

On his home international debut, QPR striker Washington netted the winning goal for Northern Ireland in their 1-0 friendly victory over Slovenia on Monday, securing a spot in Michael O’Neill’s 23-man squad for the Euro 2016 finals in the process.

Southampton midfielder Davis was hugely impressed by Washington’s superb strike and all round performance in what was only his second appearance at the highest level.

Davis believes the one-time mail man can now become one of Northern Ireland’s main men.

“I was delighted to see Conor Washington come in and make the impact he has. He can be a real asset to us for many years,” said the experienced Davis.

“He showed what he is all about, and he has given Michael something to think about ahead of the Euros.

“I think Conor adapted himself well against Wales last week on his international debut and did exceptionally well in the Slovenia match.

“To get a goal has capped things off nicely for him. What was so great about it was that he made the goal all on his own.

“Scoring on your home debut is fantastic and hopefully there will be plenty more goals to come from Conor.

“He has now had a taste of international football and that will stand him in good stead going forward.”

The Northern Ireland skipper was proud to lead the side to a record 10-match unbeaten run on Monday night, surpassing the feats of the national team in the 1980s.

Davis, who has won 81 caps and can recall the days when Northern Ireland went on lengthy losing runs, pointed out that the modern day stars are intent on making sure this unbeaten spell doesn’t end anytime soon.

“From where we were at in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, to where we are now, is phenomenal. So naturally we are delighted to have the record,” said the former Rangers ace.

“The big buzzword has been momentum, and we wanted to keep that going over the two games against Wales and Slovenia. We drew in Wales and have beaten Slovenia at Windsor Park so we have managed to keep the momentum. That is important.

“We’ve found it notoriously difficult to have consistency in the past but we have the bit between our teeth at the moment.

“Everyone who steps into their position knows their role and that’s credit to the work rate of Michael and the staff.

“We’re enjoying the moment and the remaining two friendlies will be important to keep momentum going.

“We can do that by putting in more good performances and getting more positive results against Belarus in May and Slovakia in June.

“We want to go into the Euros in the best form possible, with confidence high.

“We realise we have to play in a certain way to get results and everyone has bought into that.

“I think we realise we won’t always dominate the ball but we will be hard for other teams to beat and are a threat going forward.”

Looking ahead to the Euro 2016 finals when Northern Ireland will face Poland, Ukraine and World champions Germany in the group stages, Davis said: “We know we won’t have a lot of possession at the Euros. And we know the level of opposition is going to go up a notch or two.

“So being hard to beat will be vital if we are to get some positive results. We believe we have the quality to hurt teams as well, so you hope that it all gels together when we go to France.”

Davis is a guaranteed name on the squad list for France, but the manager has some other decisions to make concerning Peterborough defender Michael Smith, who made his international debut on Monday, and perhaps striker Liam Boyce, who is now behind Washington, after missing out on Monday due to a hand injury.

“I am glad it is Michael who has to make the decisions and not me. It will be tough finalising the squad for France,” the skipper added.

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