Belfast Telegraph

Davis confident Northern Ireland will earn vital three points

By Paul Ferguson

There was a time when Northern Ireland players would have faced a match against tonight's opponents San Marino in Serravalle with trepidation. The men in green struggled to deal with the weight of expectation on their shoulders.

In the last World Cup qualifying campaign, Northern Ireland were humilated by Luxembourg and Azerbaijan away from home.

But now, just four years on, Northern Ireland will be full of confidence against the San Marino part-timers who would consider a draw a moral victory over O'Neill's men, having never won a competitive fixture.

Inspirational captain Steven Davis, who endured some dark nights in a Northern Ireland shirt, insists his side are much more mature and prepared to make sure they claim a vital three points this evening.

The Southampton star, who will play in a midfield three alongside Ollie Norwood and Chris Brunt tonight, says: "I don't think it's one thing. It's a combination of things - experience, belief within the team, everybody knowing their roles inside out in terms of how we're going to play.

"Just really having confidence. We've dealt with these games a lot better in the last few years than in my previous international career. We now understand what makes us tick and what gets us positive results.

"As long as we don't go too far away from that path, we believe we can go on and achieve something special again."

Davis scored Northern Ireland's first goal in the 4-0 win over San Marino last October - a 26th minute penalty.

But the scoreline fails to tell the story that Northern Ireland played the majority of the second half against 10 men after Mirko Palazzi was sent off and, despite bombarding the San Marino goalkeeper, three goals only arrived in the final 11 minutes.

"It's important we come here and get a good result and not take the game lightly," said Davis, who will win his 96th cap tonight.

"We have to approach the game in the right manner and show the intensity we showed against them in Belfast.

"It might not be an easy game, but we have to stay focused and try and do the right things.

"If we do that we can get the right result then the Czech game will take care of itself."

The match against the Czechs at the National Stadium on Monday, depending on results tonight, could see Northern Ireland confirm second place in Group C.

Two years ago heading into the match against the Faroes and Hungary they were in a similar position and Davis believes that experience could be invaluable over the next few days.

The 32 year-old added: "Last time out the situation was new to us all and we had to learn how to deal with it in the moment.

"Hopefully over these next two games we can look back at the experience we gained there and use that in a positive way.

"Very similar games, but we're not really looking beyond this game."

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