Belfast Telegraph

Steven Davis is NI's answer to Bale, not me says Kyle Lafferty

By Paul Ferguson

Kyle Lafferty may have scored the same number of goals as Gareth Bale in qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals, but the Northern Ireland striker insists that is where the comparisons end with the Welsh superstar.

Kesh-born Lafferty was flattered to be considered the Northern Ireland talisman heading into these Euro 2016 finals following his seven sensational goals in reaching France.

However, as Michael O'Neill's men prepare to tackle Celtic rivals Wales in their first ever European Championship last 16 clash tomorrow evening at the Parc des Princes in Paris, the 28-year-old hitman is adamant inspirational skipper Steven Davis should be regarded as Northern Ireland's equivalent to Bale.

Lafferty believes Davis, who he played alongside at Rangers during a trophy-laden spell at Ibrox, is the most underrated midfielder at these finals and when he is not in the Northern Ireland team, the men in green simply malfunction.

"The amount of goals I scored in the qualifiers, people obviously think it's all about me. But it's not," admits the Norwich City forward, who is hoping to reclaim the lone striker's role from Conor Washington tomorrow night.

"Steven Davis is our Gareth Bale - he just doesn't get recognised for what he does.

"What Davo does on the ball and what he brings to the team - I remember in the qualifiers, we went unbeaten in the first three games and then we played Romania (with Davis injured).

"There was something missing. We didn't get a touch of the ball, we didn't have any possession at all. It was difficult.

"When we played the Romanians at home it was completely different because Davo was in the team. We had the ball and created chances, and I would say that was down to him.

"In the first game against Poland, with Davo right behind me playing as a No. 10, it excited me because I knew that once he gets on the ball he can pick out a pass.

"Unfortunately we didn't get much of the ball and it was difficult for both of us to have a say in the game. I would argue that if Davo saw more of the ball in that game, things could have been different."

Lafferty, desperate for a move away from the Canaries this summer after being frozen out at Carrow Road last season, had been hoping to make a big impression in France, but his participation has been limited with QPR's Washington starting against both Ukraine and Germany.

It was a bitter blow for the so-called poster boy of the Northern Ireland team to accept. However, Lafferty says he has knuckled down in training and tried to show boss O'Neill that he deserves to be given a second chance.

"There were two ways I could have taken it," states Lafferty. "I could have taken it the hard way and made myself a nuisance around the dressing room and caused problems. But that's not me. If I'm not playing, I'm a Northern Ireland fan. So I put the head down and worked hard in training."

If Lafferty is given a recall by O'Neill then he will once again come up against Swansea City's no-nonsense centre-half Ashley Williams.

Lafferty played against him in the March friendly at Cardiff City Stadium and while he respects the Welsh captain, he is convinced that Williams will not be able to prevent him from having a huge game.

"He's a big, strong, powerful guy but I don't think he's the tallest defender I've come up against. If I turn up there's only going to be one winner," says Lafferty. "Hopefully if Michael gives me the nod to lead the line my head will be focused. What a position we're in. The outcome is massive for us."

On Wednesday night at their luxury Chateau De Pizay base, Lafferty and his team-mates watched the Republic of Ireland against Italy match to find out who they would play in the knock-out stages.

A clash against the hosts France would have been the glamour tie - an encounter the players would have relished in their adopted home of Lyon.

But now facing a game against a team from the home nations after the Republic's win, they have even greater belief that they can make the quarter-finals.

Former Wales midfielder and outspoken pundit Robbie Savage, who was sent off the last time the two teams met in a competitive clash in Cardiff, has stoked the fire by tweeting that this game is like a 'bye' for Chris Coleman's men.

Lafferty's response is simple: "We were written off from the first moment we got here. We were told we weren't going to get a point and probably be the worst team at the tournament.

"We're now in the last 16, and with the belief we have and the belief the fans have in us, we honestly believe we can have a massive say in this tournament.

"Against Wales every single player needs to be on the top of their game. It would have been nice to get France, the home nation in front of their fans. We fancied our chances against France and we believe they're a tougher team than Wales.

"I believe we'll have more of the ball. It will come down to who wants it the most. And I believe that will be us."

  • N Ireland v Wales, Euro 2016 Round of 16: Parc des Princes, Saturday, 5.00pm

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