Friday 6 December 2019

Davis withdraws from NI squad

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis has been forced to withdraw from Friday's Euro 2016 qualifier in Romania.

The Southampton midfielder has been battling to prove his fitness since a hamstring injury forced him off in the first half of the Saints' Barclays Premier League win over Leicester last weekend, but has finally admitted defeat.

The team will now travel to Bucharest on Wednesday evening without their inspirational skipper, who has played every game since inheriting the armband almost three years ago.

Davis' absence represents a huge blow for Michael O'Neill's side, who are the surprise leaders of Group F after kicking off their campaign with three successive wins.

A point in Romania would see them remain at the summit until at least the next round of fixtures in March.

In light of the injury, winger Niall McGinn said: "No-one does more than Davo. He's our captain, he's definitely our leader on the pitch and he's done so well for us for a number of years.

"He came in to the team hotel on Tuesday because he's been with his club having scans, he was just chilling and taking it easy but there's no doubt he'll be hugely disappointed not to have made it.

"It's a massive miss for us but there are other players who come in and do a good job.

"It will show the strength in depth we have if we can cover for him.

"He brings so much with his performances alone and he helps bring up everyone else around him to those standards."

Goalkeeper Roy Carroll added: "Steven has been fantastic since I came back into the set-up. He's never missed a game.

"But you can't take a chance on a player of his quality. We don't want to make the injury worse if he isn't 100 per cent and we have other players who can come in and give 100 per cent."

O'Neill, who had already lost forward Jamie Ward and full-back Ryan McLaughlin to injury, must now replace Davis as captain and in the centre of the park.

Brighton defender Aaron Hughes led the side for a decade before Davis and would be an obvious candidate to step in, but he has also got question marks over his match fitness after suffering an ankle problem.

Gareth McAuley is another option, though turned down the chance to lead the team out in Greece last month on the occasion of his 50th cap in deference to Davis.

In midfield, O'Neill can choose from the likes of Sammy Clingan, Paul Paton and Corry Evans, as well as uncapped Rochdale man Matthew Lund who was called up as squad cover on Tuesday.

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