Belfast Telegraph

Davis feels pain as Northern Ireland's World Cup qualification dream fade

By Stuart McKinley

Steve Davis has been left frustrated at seeing Northern Ireland’s World Cup dream crushed by two nights of disappointment at Windsor Park.

And after home draws against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan left fans downhearted and Brazil 2014 hopes in tatters, the Northern Ireland captain says the country’s supporters are right to expect better because the players’ expectancy is exactly the same.

Two vital points were tossed away when Luxembourg struck a late equaliser back in September and although spirits were raised when Niall McGinn’s goal and a heroic defensive performance earned a draw in Portugal last month, the dream died on Wednesday night.

It took a David Healy free-kick deep into injury time to rescue Northern Ireland from an embarrassing defeat and now, instead of being right in the mix for World Cup qualification, Northern Ireland are left fighting for fourth place in the group with Azerbaijan — with even achieving the third place finish that manager Michael O’Neill had set as the target at the start of the campaign an uphill task.

“I think overall we should really be sitting here with seven points on the board rather than three,” said Davis.

“That’s not where we’re at.

“If we’d beaten Azerbaijan we’d maybe a sneaky chance of qualifying with three home games coming up, but it wasn’t to be.”

There are six qualifiers in 2012, starting with a Windsor Park double header against Russia and Israel in March — the yellow cards shown to Kyle Lafferty and Chris Baird against Azerbaijan will rule them out of the first of those games.

With Portugal then coming to Belfast in September before the campaign ends with trips to Luxembourg, Azerbaijan and then Israel, there is the very real possibility that Northern Ireland could fail to win a game in the campaign.

And not winning so far isn’t good enough for Davis.

“Performance wise I thought everybody was excellent against Azerbaijan and we did everything right apart from putting the ball in the back of the net,” he said.

“There is an expectation there to beat these teams and as players we expect to beat them as well.

“I don’t think we could have done much more. Up until our finishing the play was excellent.”

Craig Cathcart was guilty of missing two particularly gilt-edged chances — two of some half a dozen that Northern Ireland spurned before Healy finally beat goalkeeper Salahat Aghayev, who was winning only his second cap.

“We just didn't seem to be able to hit the target,” said Cathcart.

“We didn't work the keeper enough. We got the ball into the box often enough, but we failed to take advantage of it. I guess it was just one of those nights.

“We had a number of chances, but didn't take them. At least we created them. On another night it could have been 8-1. It's just one of those things.

“We know we can create chances at home and our next few games are at Windsor Park.

“We've just got to take those chances and turn our draws into wins.”

Belfast Telegraph


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