Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Slovenia: Captain Steven Davis out to tear up record books

By Steven Beacom

Captain marvel Steven Davis has more history with Northern Ireland on his mind. Already the first Northern Ireland skipper to lead the country to the European Championships, Davis now has a record-breaking unbeaten run in his sights.

Should Northern Ireland win or draw against Slovenia in a friendly at Windsor Park tonight (kick-off 7.45pm), Michael O'Neill's modern day heroes will have gone TEN games in a row without defeat - surpassing the great Billy Bingham sides who were unbeaten for nine successive matches on two occasions during the 1980s.

Davis is set to win his 81st cap versus Slovenia. He is enjoying his football with Northern Ireland and the consistency of the team like never before.

"It would be great to get the record," said the Southampton midfielder, who has scored on his last two Windsor outings.

"Momentum is a big thing in football and you want to keep it going for as long as you can. This is a good opportunity to continue our development as a team, and a chance for the younger players to gain more experience and see what it is like to play at this level.

Read more: Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill: England showed us how to beat Germans at Euro 2016

"And obviously there is a nice carrot there for us if we can get another unbeaten game under our belts.

"We have three games before the Euros, so we want to keep building momentum.

"We have found a way of playing that gets us results. You can see that in our performances. For so long we were so inconsistent, and you didn't know what you were going to get from game to game.

"Now we are getting positives results, and we want to keep that going."

O'Neill was considering resting some of his more experienced players for the Slovenia game, but he revealed yesterday they all want to play their part in creating history, after drawing 1-1 in Wales on Thursday to keep the undefeated run intact.

"The record is a nice thing to have. Speaking to some of the senior players about maybe freshening things up for the Slovenia game, they were all adamant that they wanted to play," said O'Neill.

"The players want to extend the unbeaten record, maybe more than I do, but that is good. I thought their reaction to drawing the game in Wales was one of disappointment.

"That was also good as it is easy to shrug off things like that in friendlies.

"The players want to continue the momentum, and if they continue to create milestones along the way that's great."

O'Neill's assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl played during both of the historic nine-game spells under Bingham.

It is an education looking back on those days. First time around between 1979 and 1980, Northern Ireland won six and drew three though the opposition was a lot easier than from 1985 to 1986 when Bingham's side won three and drew six.

O'Neill's men have won four and drawn five of their nine matches. It is worth highlighting that in comparison to the runs in the 80s, they have scored more goals.

Another point to note is midfielder Oliver Norwood, who played more minutes in the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign than anyone else, is the only Northern Ireland star to have started in every game in this one-year long undefeated spell.

O'Neill used two formations in Cardiff and won't be afraid to mix it up in Belfast. New boy Conor Washington and Liam Boyce are carrying knocks so may not be risked but Josh Magennis is available again. He'll hope to see some action as will big pal Kyle Lafferty, aiming for a goal to send him on his way to a loan spell with Birmingham.

Windsor Park awaits and will expect Northern Ireland to stay invincible.

Belfast Telegraph