Friday 23 February 2018

Nerveless North have self-belief to make history, insists Davis

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis believes his side have the self-belief to make history
Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis believes his side have the self-belief to make history

Michael Walker

History, hysteria and sheer joy. When such a reserved character as Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis starts using such language, you can be sure something's afoot.

And it is: defeat Hungary at Windsor Park tonight and Northern Ireland will reach the European Championship finals for the first time in the competition's history. As Davis says: "We're on the cusp of something really special."

Michael O'Neill's blossoming Northern Ireland players have overturned all expectations, including their own, by finding a consistency and coherence that has elevated the team ranked fifth in Group F to first place.

There is much focus on the 10th anniversary today of David Healy's celebrated winner against England at Windsor Park, but a more relevant comparison is with this week two years ago when O'Neill's team lost 3-2 in Luxembourg.

Davis, who played in that game, said: "When you look at it that way, it has been quite a turnaround. But we saw signs of progress, and something to build on. In this campaign we have put everything together.

"Things have clicked, now we have to stay focused. Everyone is just embracing the situation. I don't sense any nervousness."

Friday night in the Faroe Islands was almost perfect for O'Neill.

Not only did he see his team win 3-1, there were no injuries, no suspensions collected and Hungary could only draw 0-0 with Romania in Budapest.

That has left the winning scenario offered tonight but O'Neill is fully aware that Hungary remain ranked four places higher than his team and have not conceded a goal in their last five qualifiers.

A draw would not be a bad result. The North North would then have a home game against Greece and a trip to Finland next month to get across the line.

O'Neill is expected to name an unchanged team. That means Kyle Lafferty will again be up front, hoping to add to his six goals in qualification.

The 27-year-old Norwich City striker missed the Luxembourg game two years ago because he had been sent off against Portugal four days earlier in a game the North led 2-1 until the 68th minute.

It was a personal turning-point for Lafferty, who said: "The team needs the Kyle Lafferty with the head screwed on, not the clown.

"I have matured and the transformation is down to Michael." (© Independent News Service)

Northern Ireland v Hungary,

Sky Sports 5, 7.45

Indo Sport

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