Belfast Telegraph

We'd all love boss to lead us out at the Euro finals, admits Steven Davis

History maker: NI skipper Steven Davis will tonight overtake David Beckham and become the UK’s most-capped midfielder
History maker: NI skipper Steven Davis will tonight overtake David Beckham and become the UK’s most-capped midfielder

By Steven Beacom

Skipper Steven Davis says the ideal scenario for the Northern Ireland players is for Michael O'Neill to be in charge of the team at the Euro 2020 finals.

Northern Ireland have to get there first but inspirational Rangers star Davis says that O'Neill has given them the belief to do that, adding that the manager's appointment at Stoke City hasn't changed the focus in the squad. O'Neill is taking charge of his country for tonight's Euro qualifier against Holland and the Group C game in Germany on Tuesday. He also intends to be around for potential play-offs in March.

Davis will win his 116th cap at Windsor Park this evening, becoming the UK's most-capped midfielder in the process. He wants to win some more with O'Neill at the helm.

Asked for his thoughts on O'Neill landing the Stoke manager's job, Davis said: "From a selfish point of view, I was disappointed but as Michael has said the plan going forward is to take the team through to the end of this campaign, be that the play-offs or whatever.

"I think we've got a great opportunity to qualify, be that through the two games we have left in the group or the play-offs."

Quizzed on whether the perfect scenario would see O'Neill take the team all the way to Euro finals, Davis answered: "Of course, yes."

The former Southampton hero added: "Michael has taken the job, but the focus since he came in has been on preparing for the game against Holland."

Davis has had a rollercoaster of an international career filled with highs and lows. In O'Neill's reign, though, the 34-year-old has not experienced victory over a superpower nation. He would love that to change tonight in what could be O'Neill's last game as boss at Windsor.

"We don't need any extra incentive. A number of us in the squad have already had the experience of going to Euro 2016 in France and we want to go to another major finals," said Davis.

"We have all enjoyed our time under Michael. He has taken us on leaps and bounds and created a belief that we can actually get to these tournaments and compete against the bigger nations consistently. What we have been missing is that one big scalp in his time but hopefully we can deliver that against Holland."

To do that, crowd favourite Davis must have a big influence. Beside him in midfield will be Corry Evans, Paddy McNair, George Saville and Stuart Dallas. Bailey Peacock-Farrell will be in goal with Michael Smith and Jamal Lewis strong bets for the full-back positions alongside important centre-backs Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart. In the 3-1 defeat in Rotterdam last month, O'Neill started with Kyle Lafferty in attack before Josh Magennis came on to score. Liam Boyce is another option up front.

On breaking the UK midfield landmark held by England legend David Beckham, Davis said: "I take great pride in putting on the jersey. I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey and hopefully there are more caps to come."

• Northern Ireland Under-19s lost 3-1 to Portugal at Mourneview Park last night.

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