Friday 23 March 2018

Davis unfazed by suspension threat hanging over several Northern Ireland players

Steven Davis is one of the Northern Ireland players walking a disciplinary tightrope
Steven Davis is one of the Northern Ireland players walking a disciplinary tightrope

Six Northern Ireland players are one caution away from a suspension, yet captain Steven Davis does not expect that scenario to affect team selection against Germany.

Michael O'Neill has a quandary ahead of the world champions' arrival in Belfast this week in that a booking for Davis, Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Stuart Dallas, Oliver Norwood or Josh Magennis - all of whom could conceivably start - will rule them out of the trip to Norway three days later.

That may yet be a pivotal Group C contest if the Germans win at Windsor Park as the second-placed Northern Irish would likely kick-off their final qualifier in Oslo not knowing if they have done enough for a qualification play-off berth.

The situation is muddied further in that those play-offs are seeded based on world rankings and a victory against Norway might go a long way to ensuring O'Neill's side, currently ranked 20th, avoid potential heavyweights like Portugal and Italy.

Yet, following consultations with O'Neill, midfielder Davis does not think his international boss will play a weakened side against the Germans.

"I think whenever maybe you try to be too clever in these situations it can come back and bite you," Davis said.

"It's a game that everybody will obviously want to play in. We've got a number of players on bookings and what will be will be, we just have to get on with it, I guess.

"It's a difficult one. You never know with the seedings what the result against Norway might affect as well. He's the manager and we're the players, we just get on with the job."

FIFA's rules stipulate that a player incurs a suspension if he gets just two yellow cards throughout the qualification campaign, a regulation that carries over into the play-offs too.

O'Neill, whose squad includes only four Premier League players, has deemed that unfair and believes it only serves to handicap nations whose potential player pool is smaller.

"The two bookings (for a suspension) is very harsh," O'Neill claimed.

"You're talking over a year of international football from possibly being booked against the Czech Republic to possibly getting booked in the first round of a play-off game and missing the second leg.

"I do think it's something that needs to be looked at, certainly the UEFA system (for qualification for the Euros) of three bookings is fairer.

"It does penalise the smaller nations, no doubt about that.

"That type of scenario is something that is very difficult because if we shuffle the team about too much, in certain areas, we would be asking players who are possibly not even playing at their club to go in and play against the world champions.

"It's something that, between now and picking the team I'll give consideration to but I feel we have to play our strongest team over the two games."

His strongest team would likely include Aaron Hughes, though a calf injury that forced him off for Hearts on Saturday has put his availability in doubt.

However, Press Association Sport understands the 37-year-old has met up with the squad in Belfast, which suggests the problem is not so serious that he will definitely miss out.

Press Association

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