Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's Steven Davis eyes Wembley send-off to France

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis is relishing the prospect of leading his country to Euro 2016 and is determined to book a trip to a Wembley final next year as well.

To have any chance of that in the Capital One Cup, his Southampton side must beat a Liverpool outfit who will enter tonight's quarter-final in confident mood after winning their last three games under new manager Jurgen Klopp.

Southampton's form since the international break has not been so impressive - they have lost their previous two games, at home to Stoke and away to Manchester City on Saturday in the Premier League.

Davis, such an inspiration for Northern Ireland during their successful Euro qualifying campaign, knows that to overcome Klopp's men, the Saints have to return to their performances of earlier in the campaign when they went on an eight-match unbeaten run.

The midfielder said: "We built up a lot of belief on that run before the Stoke game and we know it is all about getting back to that level.

"We need to get back to winning ways and the match with Liverpool gives us an opportunity to do that."

Since Ronald Koeman arrived last summer, Southampton have punched above their weight in the Premier League, but have disappointed in the cup competitions.

Davis feels that the last-eight League Cup clash is a chance to put that right.

"It is a massive game for us. It would be great to go on a good cup run this year. That is one thing that has been disappointing over the past couple of seasons," he said.

"We have put ourselves in good positions but haven't quite been able to see it through against opposition we feel we should have done better against.

"Obviously they will be full of confidence after their recent results, especially the win at Manchester City, but we are at home and we want to get a good result at St Mary's and go through to the next round.

"They have quality players but we have quality too and believe we can get a positive result.

"If we win this we are in the semi-finals of the competition so there is plenty of incentive for us.

"All of us would love to go all the way and reach a Wembley final. That would be fantastic for the team and all our fans."

Davis has been in decent scoring form of late, netting three times for club and country in October and twice in November after a long barren spell.

As well as creating chances and providing his usual guile from midfield, the 30-year-old, who once netted in a Scottish League Cup final for Rangers at Hampden, is keen to continue threatening in front of goal.

"It's been nice getting a few goals lately for Southampton and Northern Ireland. The last couple of months have gone well for me on that front and hopefully December can be just as good," said Davis.

The Northern Ireland hero says when the year comes to an end he will reflect on 2015 with great pride having played such a pivotal role in helping Michael O'Neill's men make it to France for next year's finals.

In October he scored twice at Windsor Park in a 3-1 victory over Greece which sealed Northern Ireland's Euro qualification and Davis followed that up with the winning goal against Latvia in Belfast last month, ending the nation's seven-year run without success in a friendly.

Those strikes were the icing on the cake to a stunning international year in which Davis played a captain's role on and off the pitch as Northern Ireland made it to their first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.

"I've always felt privileged to play for and captain Northern Ireland, but this year has been such a special period for all of us," said the ex-Aston Villa and Fulham star.

"We have had some fantastic nights and the best of them all was that evening we qualified.

"In our previous match we had the chance to do it by beating Hungary, but in the end actually did well to draw that game.

"Then came the match with Greece which I will never forget.

"There was a big build-up to the game and on the night of the match there was a feeling in our camp that we were going to do it.

"To go out and play the way we did on what was a massive night for Northern Ireland showed the character in the team.

"And for me to score twice against Greece was a wonderful feeling. Best of all though was that they helped us through to the finals in France."

Davis, who dedicated his goals versus Greece to his late mum Laura, added: "Having the Euro 2016 tournament to look forward to next year is fantastic.

"But right now all of us have to put that to one side and think about what we are doing for our clubs.

"I'm enjoying life at Southampton and want to do all I can to ensure that we have a successful season."

Belfast Telegraph