Steven Davis wants Northern Ireland to use Nations League as chance to learn

Steven Davis wants Northern Ireland to use their Nations League games as a learning opportunity ahead of next month’s Euro 2020 play-off final against Slovakia.

Northern Ireland almost nicked a draw in Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat to Austria, but were fortunate not to be trailing by more than a goal by half-time as the visitors passed up a string of chances in a flat performance from the hosts.

It came after Ian Baraclough’s side started second best in Sarajevo before eventually beating Bosnia and Herzegovina on penalties in their semi-final on Thursday – repeating a pattern of starting slowly from last month’s internationals.

Northern Ireland remain without a win in the short history of the Nations League, losing six of their seven games to date, and few will back them to change that when they travel to Norway on Wednesday night a month after losing 5-1 at home to the same opposition.

But with Thursday’s win having set up the game that mattered most, captain Davis is looking ahead.

“We’re under no illusions; we knew straight after the (Austria) game that we didn’t perform the way we’d like to but the good thing is that it gives us an opportunity to look back at the game and correct things that we feel were wrong,” Davis said.

“Ultimately we want to win games and we’ll be doing everything possible in Norway to do that, but we also have to look at the bigger picture and get clarity on what everyone wants going into the Slovakia game next month.”

The match in Bosnia saw Davis win his 120th cap to break Pat Jennings’ appearance record, and he made that 121 on Sunday night before being replaced late on.

With these strange times throwing up a third competitive match in the space of a week, Baraclough is expected to make changes in Oslo but Davis said he was happy to play if called upon.

“I’ll leave that up to the management team to make that decision,” he said.

“I think if you go over the course of the season I’m not going to play 60 games and at times you make that decision, but in terms of how I feel, I feel good, I felt good after playing extra-time last week and I felt good on Sunday as well.

“Of course, whenever you’re away with Northern Ireland you always want to play.”

Davis is far from alone in raising his hand though, with every member of the squad keen to stake their claim ahead of the Slovakia clash.

Northern Ireland lost to Austria last time out
Northern Ireland lost to Austria last time out

“Everybody is desperate to play,” Davis said. “Everybody supports each other but everybody wants that jersey, too.

“If you get the opportunity, you’ve got to grasp it with both hands.

“Like I said, there will certainly be changes with the format the way it is at the moment with three games in the space of a week and it will be the same going into the next couple of international breaks.

“But it provides players who haven’t had the game time they want with a great opportunity to go and show what they are capable of.”