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Steven Davis has the Euros and Champions League in his sights

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis has outlined his desire to finish the season in style, helping club and country to achieve their goals.

Davis has been an influential figure at international level since winning his first cap a decade ago, and over the past couple of years has emerged as one of the most important players for Southampton, who are enjoying a fantastic campaign.

The Saints are third in the Premier League and in with a genuine chance of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Should Ronald Koeman's men reach football's promised land it will be one of the most unlikely success stories in the British game.

For starters they are not one of the big spending giants of English football like Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or Spurs and four years ago were in League One!

Add to that all the high profile departures in the summer when Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert moved to Liverpool, Luke Shaw joined Manchester United and Calum Chambers ended up at Arsenal plus boss Mauricio Pochettino left for the vacant Tottenham job.

With all that going on some pundits tipped the Saints for relegation! How wrong they were.

Midfielder Davis stuck around and in the past five months has excelled, playing a major role for the south coast club.

Every week their hopes of finishing in the top four are written off, but with 22 out of the 38 league fixtures played, time is running out for others to overhaul them.

"We have a level headed group of players here and we know what we need to keep our form going in the league," said Davis, ahead of Sunday's home game against Swansea.

"It's obviously been a really good season so far but we don't want it to peter out. We want to keep things going and finish the campaign on a high."

Asked about qualifying for the Champions League, which Davis played in while he was with Rangers, the 30-year-old said: "I think if we are in the same position at the end of February we can start to realistically go at it. The important thing is that we are enjoying our football and looking forward to every game."

What will stand manager Koeman in good stead is that his team play without fear, evident in a crucial 1-0 victory at Manchester United earlier this month.

Davis, who has made 100 appearances for the Saints, said: "It was massive to win at Old Trafford. We said before that game that we wanted to put down a marker and that it was very important in terms of how our season was going to go.

"We are growing as a team and we know now that we can take on big teams and compete on a consistent basis.

"The club has been on an unbelievable journey in the last five or six years and I've been lucky to be part of it for the last three seasons. In the 100 matches I've played there's been a lot more positives than negatives. Hopefully that will continue."

In upbeat mood about Southampton, Davis is also feeling optimistic about Northern Ireland, who are well placed to qualify for next year's European Championship finals in France.

Michael O'Neill's side are second in Group F, having gained nine points from four games.

The top two qualify automatically with the third placed team earning at least a play-off.

Northern Ireland's next Euro 2016 qualifier is at home to Finland in March followed by a June Windsor showdown against group leaders Romania.

"We have put ourselves in a strong position," said Davis.

"Winning our opening three games in the group gave everyone a boost and belief that we can qualify, if we continue to play as we can.

"There are big games for Northern Ireland coming up in 2015, and I know everyone in the squad is determined to get the country to the Euro finals."

Our Saint Steven oozes composure and class

Steven Davis is not a flash footballer and on occasion when watching five minute highlights packages of Southampton games on Match of the Day, you won’t even notice him.

The Saints players and fans certainly notice when he’s not playing though. The same goes for Northern Ireland.

He is the most important player the country has. Only Kyle Lafferty’s value to the side comes close.

And for Southampton he’s been fundamental to their success this season. Just ask Ronald Koeman, who plays the 30-year-old every chance he gets.

The strategy that Koeman operates requires his midfielders to close down the opposition quickly, stay disciplined and in shape and be able to keep the ball and break quickly when they have it. Davis fits the bill. He’s the key link between defence and attack offering balance to the team. 

At Rangers he was the best player in Scotland for a period, but playing at a higher standard, having returned to the Premier League in 2012, his game has improved dramatically.

The truth is Steven knew it needed to if he was to become a mainstay at Southampton.

Always a clever footballer, he’s fitter, sharper and playing with more confidence than ever which has helped Northern Ireland no end.

Lafferty was the goalscoring hero as the national side surged to a record breaking three wins out of three to open the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, but it was captain Davis who was the brains behind the victories. When he was out injured for match number four Michael O’Neill’s side lost in Romania. No coincidence.

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