Belfast Telegraph

Baku misery is fresh in our minds but we're stronger now, says Davis

By Paul Ferguson in Baku

Skipper Steven Davis admits Northern Ireland's last visit to Baku was a defining moment for the men in green.

Northern Ireland lost 2-0 to Azerbaijan and it summed up a disappointing 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Now Michael O'Neill's men have had a complete transformation with Northern Ireland lying second in Group C and on course to finish in a play-off place.

Davis insists Northern Ireland, having returned to the Azerbaijan capital, now know how to see out games - something they certainly weren't able to do during the first two years of Michael O'Neill's tenure.

The Southampton star says: "Looking back through that whole campaign, it was a massive learning experience for us all. At the time we spoke about the performances being good and not having that mentality to deal with the setbacks really.

"The memories of the game here last time, we were disappointed to lose, we created opportunities but we weren't clinical enough. But from where we were at then to where we are now, there's obviously a massive difference - the whole mentality in the group's changed, we're in a much better place and want to continue the run we're on at the minute."

While Northern Ireland are confident of victory many of the players haven't performed competitively for over a month.

The Premier League and Scottish Premiership aces have just finished a long hard season, however Davis believes Northern Ireland, even though they are missing key players, will prove too strong for Azerbaijan.

Davis adds: "I think it's the toughest game we could have had at this time of year.

"It will be a different proposition to the game in Belfast but we have seen where we can cause them problems and we'll try to do that again.

"We understand their threat, too. They are a technical team, they are good on the ball and like to play out from the back so we have to get the balance right.

"We believe we have the quality to come out here and get a result and now we need to go and show that."

Northern Ireland will move six points clear of Azerbaijan in Group C if they win tonight at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium and depending on the result in Oslo, where Norway meet the Czech Republic, O'Neill's men could be well clear.

Davis states: "We know the significance of three points and the gap it would put between us and Azerbaijan. It would help try to cement second place in the group and that's the immediate carrot for us so we'll be doing everything we can to get the result

"We know any away game in international football is always difficult but we will take confidence from our last result and take that into this game."

Northern Ireland is missing key players for tonight's enounter with Paddy McNair, Corry Evans, Jamie Ward, Craig Cathcart, Luke McCullough and Will Grigg all out injured and Conor Washington missing as he is getting married.

Davis though is unconcerned by the absentees.

He concedes: "It's a great opportunity for the players coming in who don't always get a chance to play. Our squad it stronger than what it was a couple of years ago and we have more experience throughout.

"Anyone who comes in will be more than capable of making the step up and we all understand the significance of this game and what three points would mean to us."

Belfast Telegraph


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