Belfast Telegraph

Davis remains priceless to NI despite his penalty agony

 

Going over: Steven Davis skies his penalty against the Netherlands
Going over: Steven Davis skies his penalty against the Netherlands
Steven Davis

By Steven Beacom

Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman and Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis had a chance meeting in the media interview area at Windsor Park on Saturday night.

Smiles were exchanged between Koeman and his former captain at Southampton before the pair enjoyed a warm embrace.

One-time Saint Koeman became a sinner with the Green and White Army after last month's Euro 2020 qualifier in Rotterdam when he was critical of Northern Ireland's tactics and style of play in Holland's 3-1 comeback win.

The ex-Barcelona star may have apologised for his comments on the eve of the weekend clash in Belfast but that cut no ice with the Northern Ireland supporters, who gave him serious stick at Windsor.

It was evident, though, as Koeman and Davis hugged after Saturday's 0-0 draw that the Dutch manager had nothing but respect for the midfielder.

It's the same the world over. One penalty miss is not going to change that.

Anyone who has ever worked with the 34-year-old Rangers star reveres him as a person and rates him as a player.

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk, who played with Davis at Southampton, was full of praise for the qualities of his old team-mate after Holland secured the point they needed to take them to next year's finals.

Always honest in his post-match assessments, a dejected Davis insisted there were "no excuses" for the penalty that he blazed over the bar just after the half-hour mark in what proved to be the match-defining moment.

Normally so accurate and reliable in all that he does, the skipper's wayward strike stunned the Windsor faithful who adore him.

After the initial shock, the home crowd roared the midfielder's name which Davis (right) told me post-match meant a great deal to him.

So too did Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, walking off the pitch arm in arm with his captain following the final whistle.

It was a touching scene seeing the togetherness of two men who have done more than any others to put the pride and joy back into the nation's football team.

Of course, O'Neill is on his way at some point.

The country should be grateful to Stoke City for allowing the mercurial manager to take charge for the play-offs in March and hopefully next year's finals.

It's a question of when he departs but we know he's on the last lap of a magical journey.

That's tough for grateful fans to take.

Consider a Northern Ireland without Davis though. That's even more unthinkable.

Remember, he has been around almost twice as long as Michael!

Davis will win his 117th cap against Germany in Frankfurt tomorrow night.

Since making his debut against Canada in 2005, he has turned up through the good, bad and ugly and been the most influential performer.

Even after his confidence-busting penalty miss, Davis put the disappointment aside to try and push the team on to a famous victory.

The guy's always been a class player with that priceless ability to lift those around him to greater heights as he did in the successful Euro 2016 campaign.

When O'Neill goes and a new boss comes in, we can only hope that Davis stays for at least one more campaign because he will be virtually impossible to replace.

The country needs him around for as long as possible and come the play-offs in March, Davis will be the main man again for Northern Ireland.

It would be fitting if he were on the spot to inspire the side to the Euro 2020 finals.

Belfast Telegraph

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