Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Euro dream depends on cool heads in front of goal, admits Steven Davis

Captain’s role: Steven Davis is pursued by Republic of Ireland’s John Egan
Captain’s role: Steven Davis is pursued by Republic of Ireland’s John Egan

By Steven Beacom

Captain Steven Davis has called on the Northern Ireland players to be more ruthless in front of goal to make their Euro 2020 finals dream come true.

Davis was greatly encouraged by another fine performance from Northern Ireland on Thursday against the Republic of Ireland but, not for the first time in recent internationals, opportunities were missed leading to Michael O'Neill's side leaving Dublin without a win.

In golfing terms, Northern Ireland were wonderful from tee to green but wasteful when it came to putting the ball away.

It's incredible to think given the chances created that O'Neill's players have not scored away from home in their last seven matches.

It's that form in front of goal that has led to a record of two wins in 12 internationals.

Northern Ireland are better than that and certainly against Martin O'Neill's team they deserved a comfortable victory.

In virtually every facet of the friendly, the visitors were superior with dynamic displays all over the pitch from Jamal Lewis to Gavin Whyte and George Saville to skipper Davis who once more showed the madness of Mark Hughes not using him more this season for struggling Southampton.

It was only the finishing that let Northern Ireland down. Whyte and Jordan Jones were denied by excellent Republic goalkeeper Darren Randolph, but both know they should have scored while Stuart Dallas, Liam Boyce, Craig Cathcart and Michael Smith all had efforts on goal.

Honest as ever, Southampton midfielder Davis said: "I kind of feel it was a missed opportunity. I thought again the performance was really good and if you look at the balance of play and chances created then we should have won the game quite comfortably.

"It's disappointing from that aspect but obviously there are a lot of positives to take from how we played.

"We don't want to get into the mindset though of going away from home and putting in a really good performance but not getting the result to go with it. We need to become more ruthless and hopefully that will come.

"I thought we controlled the game really well. Our shape was good and we made good use of the ball and only one team looked like winning so it was a pleasing performance though it would have been nice to get the victory."

Asked if he expected Northern Ireland to be in such control, Davis said: "No, because when you come away from home it is difficult and especially with the players they have, but we used the ball well, were patient when we had to be and found space.

"Randolph pulled off a couple of good saves to keep it level. They carried a little bit of a threat from set pieces which you would expect but, other than that, we felt comfortable.

"There were some big performances from the young lads. I thought Gavin did really well, Jamal again showed what he is all about and Bailey (Peacock-Farrell) showed good composure. There were a lot of positives for us and it shows we are moving in the right direction." Next up is tomorrow's final Nations League game at home to Austria. Northern Ireland have already been relegated to the third tier of the competition but that won't stop ex-Rangers star Davis giving his all at Windsor Park.

"It would be good to finish 2018 on a high against Austria in front of our fans and get a victory," he said.

"I know it won't mean anything in terms of where we will finish in our Nations League group but I think a win would be important for us leading into the Euro 2020 qualifiers."

Northern Ireland legend Davis (33) will win his 107th cap tomorrow.

In terms of British greats only countrymen Pat Jennings (119) and Aaron Hughes (112) plus England's Peter Shilton (125), Wayne Rooney (120), David Beckham (115), Steven Gerrard (114) and Bobby Moore (108) have made more international appearances than that. He is relishing more game time after precious little of that at club level these days.

"It's never easy when you are not playing but I felt quite comfortable and the fitness was good," said Davis.

"It will be a test now to get recovered and be ready to go again on Sunday. I want to play every game I can and I'm sure it won't be a problem.

"There is still a lot more for this team to give and with the Euro qualifiers coming around the corner I want to play a major part in that campaign.

"There is a lovely carrot at the end of it and I feel there is a good chance that we can get there."

Meanwhile, Paddy McNair says he would welcome the opportunity to play against the Republic of Ireland at Windsor Park in the future.

The scoreless draw in Dublin on Thursday night was the first official international between the derby rivals in seven years, yet the last meeting in Belfast dates way back to 1994.

The respective anthems were booed by opposing supporters prior to the friendly in the Aviva stadium but there was respect shown by both sets of players during the game.

Asked post match if he would fancy a return fixture down the line at Windsor, Middlesbrough star McNair said: "100%. It would be great for both teams and I think it would be another good game. I thought this one was a good game though it would have been even better had we got the win. It just wasn't to be.

"Throughout the game I thought we were the better side and definitely had the better chances but just didn't take them," said McNair.

"I think sometimes, especially in friendly games, you want a performance and maybe on another day the goals would have gone in. It would be more of a worry if we weren't creating the chances.

"We are creating them and sometimes with teams you get these little spells when the ball isn't hitting the back of the net. I think that will change soon for us though."

Energetic McNair was almost on the end of a glorious move late on which would have clinched victory.

"I'll have to watch it back. At the time I was close to getting on the end of it. It was just unlucky we didn't get that winning goal," he said.

"I came on in midfield which is my favourite position. I love playing there and I thought I did well when I came on."

That he did, along with his team-mates, with McNair impressed by the efforts of Gavin Whyte and Jamal Lewis.

"The lads who have come in since the last campaign like Gavin Whyte and Jamal Lewis have done really well," said the ex-Manchester United player.

"They have definitely strengthened the team and we have to be confident going into the next Euro campaign and believe that we can qualify."

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