Belfast Telegraph

Rivals now struggle to reel us in, says captain Davis

By Steven Beacom

Captain Steven Davis believes a key factor in Northern Ireland's success has been their ability to be fantastic front runners. A case in point was on Monday night when Michael O'Neill's men took the lead against the Czech Republic at Windsor Park and never looked back.

Once Jonny Evans headed the opening goal in the first half, the outcome was guaranteed with Northern Ireland comfortably winning 2-0 to ensure a second-place finish in their World Cup qualifying group and a probable play-off place.

The Southampton star feels that with the team's defensive record - seven clean sheets in eight competitive games - confidence oozes through the players when they go ahead.

"It was a very professional performance and I think that's an area where we have really grown," said Davis. "The onus was going to be on them to win the game, but we showed that little bit of quality with Chris Brunt's great free-kick to get us two goals ahead, and then it was just a case of not letting them back into the game and not making any silly mistakes.

"We have found a formula to win and with our defensive record we are confident that if we go in front we can see the game out.

"It's hard to get your head around the turnaround we have had over the last few years and if you keep clean sheets then that gives you a great basis to go on and win because we know that we'll get opportunities as we have got that quality to score goals.

"That has been one of the bonuses of this campaign, especially the way we spread the goals out as well.

"We have quite an unbelievable record in terms of only conceding two goals in eight games to date and we can go into the final two group games and enjoy them now.

"At the same time we want to try and keep the momentum going. That's the most important thing, and with that belief who knows what can happen in the play-offs depending on who we get.

"Obviously we're delighted with beating the Czech Republic and the position we are in in the group, but there's still a long way to go in terms of achieving what we want and that's qualification."

Davis started Monday's game in a more forward midfield role behind striker Conor Washington.

He said: "It began like that but with the possession they had I had to drop a little bit deeper.

"It wasn't the nicest or most enjoyable game to play in but, as I said, it was important that we saw the game out, and we knew if we stuck to the game plan and didn't let them back into it then we could go on and get the win."

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