Belfast Telegraph

Peacock-Farrell saved day, now Northern Ireland must build on opening win: Davis

Great applause: Steven Davis was impressed with Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s crucial save, minutes before the captain netted a penalty against Estonia
Great applause: Steven Davis was impressed with Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s crucial save, minutes before the captain netted a penalty against Estonia

By Steven Beacom

Steven Davis scored his 12th international goal against Estonia in front of the Kop at Windsor Park but it was a save at the other end that gave him as much satisfaction.

Leading 1-0 through Niall McGinn's strike early in the second half, Northern Ireland were intent on pushing on to seal the victory in their first Euro 2020 qualifier but in a rare lapse of concentration at the back Estonia's Henri Anier raced through.

Had he found the net, the atmosphere inside the stadium would have changed but young Leeds goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell stood tall and made a vital save. Shortly after, Davis calmly stroked in a penalty and the three points were won.

Take away the Northern Ireland skipper's good pals David Healy and Kyle Lafferty and Davis would now only be one goal behind the old scoring record of 13.

As it is he was just content to see the spot-kick hit the net and Peacock-Farrell keep a clean sheet.

"It's always nice to get on the scoresheet but before the penalty Bailey pulled off a really important save at an important time and he deserves great credit for that," said Rangers star Davis.

"We had to be patient at times but all in all we have to be pleased that we got off to a good start in the campaign. We know how important the opening two games with Estonia and Belarus are going to be for us to do anything in this group.

"Overall, it was a professional performance. For the Belarus game we have to build on the performance against Estonia and hopefully get off to a good start and win the game which would put us in a good position in the group."

Quizzed on his views on Group C which contains Holland and Germany, who will go head-to-head tomorrow night, Davis said: "Everyone expects Holland and Germany to qualify from the group but you never know what will happen. We need to take care of each game as it comes along.

"Sunday is an important one for us.

"If we manage to start off the group with six points that will give us a real incentive for the Estonia and Belarus games in June which tend to be difficult for us, especially away from home.

"We need to recover from this win and get the three points against Belarus and then we can look forward to June."

Davis has not been playing as much football as he would like at Rangers, but he has now played 90 minutes for his club and his country in the last two games and should be stronger for it when Belarus come to Windsor.

He is also adapting to a new role in the team which sees centre-backs Craig Cathcart and Jonny Evans play out more than in the past when Davis was more of a quarterback.

He said: "It is a slightly different role for me.

"I have played it the last couple of internationals. I felt that I had to be patient and stay away from the ball.

"I wanted to drop a little deeper and get on it but I know what is needed from the role and I have to let Jonny and Craig build up a little bit."

• Shayne Lavery fired Northern Ireland Under-21s to a 1-0 win against Bulgaria in Spain yesterday.

Ian Baraclough's squad are currently taking part in a week-long training camp at Estepona on the Costa del Sol.

The camp includes challenge matches against Bulgaria and Mexico - and first up was the game against the Bulgarians at Marbella Football Centre.

Falkirk striker Lavery, who is on loan from Everton, grabbed his goal in the 18th minute.

Northern Ireland keeper Jared Thompson pulled off some fine saves, as did his Bulgarian counterpart, however Lavery's strike proved decisive.

It was a fourth win on the bounce for Baraclough's side, who finished second to Spain in Qualifying Group 2 for the 2019 U21 Euros and narrowly missed out on a play-off.

They will play their second challenge match on Monday against Mexico. The venue for that game is the Estadio Municipal de Marbella (7pm start).

The training camp is effectively stage one of preparations for the 2021 U21 Euros qualifying campaign. It gets under way with a game against Malta in September and Baraclough's side will also face Denmark, Romania, Ukraine and Finland in Qualifying Group 8.

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