Northern Ireland marks milestone appearance for Steven Davis with thrilling win
Steven Davis could finally enjoy his achievement in breaking Northern Ireland’s caps record after his landmark night ended in a crucial victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina in a Euro 2020 qualifying play-off semi-final.
It was perhaps fitting that Davis’ 120th appearance went to 120 minutes before Northern Ireland triumphed in their first ever penalty shoot-out.
Liam Boyce struck the winning spot-kick after Bailey Peacock-Farrell saved from Haris Hajradonovic and Edin Visca hit the crossbar, keeping Northern Ireland on course for a second consecutive European finals if they can beat Slovakia in Belfast next month.
It was a vital match on Davis’ big night, with the importance of the fixture meaning the 35-year-old Rangers midfielder had spent little time dwelling on his achievement of surpassing Pat Jennings on the appearances list.
“It’s incredible,” Davis told Sky Sports of the win. “There was a lot of build-up for me personally but it was all about the team.
“It’s a huge personal achievement for me and I can enjoy it a bit now. I’ve had so many messages, now I can look back on the night I managed to break the record with fond memories.”
Bosnia, spearheaded by the duo of Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko, started the game strongly with a string of dangerous set-pieces in the first 10 minutes before they capitalised on a Jonny Evans slip to go ahead through Rade Krunic with 13 minutes gone.
Northern Ireland struggled to get a foot hold in the game but finished the first half strongly and carried that over into the second, with Niall McGinn’s tenacity earning him a 53rd minute leveller.
“As usual, we didn’t do it the easy way,” Davis said. “In the first half we didn’t play anywhere near the way we wanted to but the second half we got to grips with them and caused them problems.
“I was delighted with the character and desire of everybody. We’d said leave everything out there and don’t have any regrets and we’ve done that, and we’re delighted to get the win. Now we can look forward to the game in November.”
There might have been an expectation that Davis would have stepped up to take Northern Ireland’s fifth penalty with the game on the line, but Hearts’ forward Liam Boyce – brought on alongside Conor Washington in the 119th minute with the shoot-out in mind – made no mistake.
“When it gets to (a penalty shoot-out) it’s 50-50 but Bailey was excellent in goal and the boys who took the penalties were very composed,” Davis said.
“It was a very big decision to make those substitutions for the penalty takes, and it’s good to have that big call pay off.”