Belfast Telegraph

Norwood loves being Northern Ireland's middle man with skipper Davis

By Steven Beacom

Oliver Norwood is loving life in the middle of the park with Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis.

The Huddersfield Town player says he is learning all the time from the Southampton star, who has become an old hand at this international football lark having played for his country 61 times.

Not so Norwood who has just 11 caps, though his performances in big games in this World Cup qualifying campaign to date would suggest he is much more experienced than that.

Norwood excelled during Northern Ireland's 1-1 draw in Portugal last year and was even better when Michael O'Neill's side stunned Fabio Capello's Russia |1-0 at Windsor Park last month.

The 22-year-old was in fine form against the Portuguese in Belfast last week as well but, like those others in green shirts left on the pitch, suffered when Chris Brunt and Kyle Lafferty were sent off in the 4-2 defeat.

The result may have been disappointing but one of the positives for the manager was the ever improving relationship between Davis and Norwood.

“Steve is a class act and for me as a young player he is so good to learn from,” said Norwood.

“He is mellow and down to earth off the pitch and on it he has so much quality on the ball.

“It is great to be alongside him. I'm learning all the time and taking bits from his game and improving my own.”

Norwood has become a key part of O'Neill's tactical framework in recent matches and tomorrow will once again be an influential performer when Northern Ireland attempt to put right that desperate 1-1 home draw with Luxembourg last year.

Norwood added: “There are no easy games at international level. We have witnessed that at Windsor against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg when we only drew.

“We really should have beaten Luxembourg though and that must be the aim for us this time. We feel confident and like a team that is going places.”

Lying fourth in the group with six points, things could have been even better but for the Brunt and Lafferty red cards on Friday night.

Northern Ireland boss O'Neill was highly critical of Lafferty for his ‘reckless and ridiculous' tackle that led to his sending off, though Norwood is a little more sympathetic.

He said: “It was very frustrating because we felt very comfortable at the time and obviously the red cards changed the game, but players make mistakes.

“Other players in the squad have made mistakes at other times.

“We spoke after the game against Portugal and it has all been put to bed.

“We have come here and no disrespect to Luxembourg we plan to win the game.”

In Portugal, Norwood took home Ronaldo's shirt.

This time around he was more concerned with taking home the memory of Windsor Park at its best, saying: “When we beat Russia I had goosebumps because the atmosphere was electric. Some of the boys in the squad had never experienced an atmosphere like that.

“On Friday night it was incredible as well.

“It's just a pity we couldn't grab another victory.”

Norwood and Davis are once again expected to be joined inmidfield by Niall McGinn and Shane Ferguson.

Both Jamie Ward and Martin Paterson trained yesterday and despite concerns for them after the Portugal encounter, the feeling is that they will both be fit for selection.

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