WORLD CUP: We still have work to do says Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis

Manager Michael O'Neill and Steven Davis
Manager Michael O'Neill and Steven Davis

Northern Ireland are on the brink of something special but there is work still to be done for Michael O’Neill’s men

A victory or a draw over the Czech Republic at Windsor Park on Monday night would secure the men in green and white second spot in Group C and a play-off game to get to the World Cup Finals in Russia next summer.

So even if they get the draw or win they need to claim second spot - there is still two very difficult play-off games to overcame before the dream of reaching our first World Cup Final since Mexico in 1986 is realised.

All of us - of a certain age - remember Espana 82 and Mexico 86 and we now on the brink of doing it all over again - but before that their is still work to be done.

Tonight’s opponent’s the Czech Republic are not turning up to make up the numbers and with Germany and Norway the last two games in the group - we are not in the promised land just yet.

The campaign so far had been a success with six clean sheets from our seven group games and the only side to score against O’Neill’s men are Germany - who aren’t a bad side!

We have dug deep and grinded out results when in previous campaigns we would have come up short.

We are three group games and hopefully two play-off games from reaching Russia.

But Northern Ireland captain Steve Davis - a veteran of 95 caps - knows that the job is far from finished.

“It’s going to be a very difficult game.

“They’re very comfortable in possession and have players who want to get between lines.

“We’ll not underestimate them by any mean,

“You just have to look at Germany game. They made changes so they have a strong squad and will be a really good test for us.

“They’ll want to pass the ball. They’ll want to dominate possession, in behind the strikers, it’s going to be a good test for us.

“Hopefully Windsor will be bouncing with energy and we’ve got we can make it a special night for everyone - but even if we get the draw or win there is still loads of work to be done.”

And Davis - who is within touching distance of 100 caps - says getting close to that milestone will not play any part in his thinking before tonight’s vital encounter.

“If we could qualify for the World Cup that would mean more than getting 100 caps but my full focus is on these last three group games and on the Czech Republic most of all.

“And as for the caps we don’t get one for every game, so I’ve got a bit more room in the house than you think - but it great to be getting near the 1oo cap mark.”

And Davis - who is having a very successful time with Premiership club Southampton - says they are in a great position heading into the last three games and they are now fighting right to the death of every game as they are scoring goals late in games.

“Without doubt, I think that’s an area we’ve grown in massively.

“Our game management is much better.

“We don’t seem to get levels of frustration in games that we got in the past, that was evident in the game the other night.

“In that game we didn’t score until the 70th minute.

“We are getting the belief in the right areas, I think that comes with results and experience and the team’s growing all the time.

“We’re also in a very good position at the minute.

“If you had offered it at the start of the campaign we’d have grabbed it with both hands. “The ball’s in our own court, and this is a good game for us to have.

“We have everything to play for and looking forward to a special night tomorrow night - but we know it is going to be tough and we have to perform.”

A draw would be enough to secure the play-off spot but Davis says they have to into the game looking to win the encounter.

“I think that goes without saying.

“That’s how we approach every game, that’s the mentality and it will be no different.

“It will be a tough game, they are quality we know from being in Prague.

“We are expecting a difficult test tomorrow but obviously we’ll be going for the win and get that second place.”

And Davis is pleased that the goals are being spread about the squad for this campaign after Kyle Lafferty had led the goal scoring charge in the qualifiers for the European Championships.

“You don’t want to have to rely on one person too much.

“We know Kyle’s ability and his goals were massive and he showed quality throughout that whole campaign.

“But it is good that goals have been shared around the squad.

“We know Kyle’s got that ability to do that.

“Our record in terms of clean sheets is really good and, you’re always in with a chance in the game if you keep a clean sheet.”

And Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill - who was also at yesterday’s press conference at Windsor Park - says his side’s defensive record will make other teams sit-up and think.

“I would imagine most coaches look at our clean sheet record.

“But they will do what I do and you look for things in opponents.

“You try and find weaknesses in the other teams.

“We did it when we played Germany and to be honest you make things up just to find little things that you can exploit.

“You have to find things that you can use against them.

“They can’t go back and show loads of goals against us.

“They make look at certain aspects but it makes other teams job more difficult to understand this is how a team is going to play.

“I think that’s where possibly you talk about that fear.

“Teams know each other so well now, not so much is unknown.

“When you see this team hasn’t conceded for so may games it a big plus.

“It’s more about our mind set and how we perform, but it’s equally nice to be in position where opponents have difficulties picking holes in us because we are doing well.”

O’Neill - who has a huge respect for the Czechs - says he has had them watched many times and he is prepared for whatever they throw at his side.

“Surprise us? Not really, no. We watched them versus Norway and we been at three of their games live.

“We spent all night looking at their game against Norway.

“They changed the system against Germany and they didn’t surprise me.

“You have to expect an onslaught from Germany which they did.

“Whatever way they play there will not be any surprises. We know the key players they have and what they are capable of.

“We know where the threat exists and we know where’s their weaknesses as well.

“We’re well versed in whatever team we’ll play and we are ready for the encounter.

“But make no mistake they are very dangerous and a good side.

“They were pot two team in terms of qualification. A team that won their group of Euro 2016.

“There’s been a little change in their squad and their coach.

“We’ve seen some top class players, they’re a very good side, and they’ve been searching in this campaign for the right formula.

“Sometimes that happens when you are introducing new players. We’re expecting a difficult game.

“Equally the prize is much greater for us than it is for them.

“They have to win to stay alive, we have to win to guarantee second.

“I’d much rather be in our situation than theirs. We know it will be very difficult, but we’re ready for that challenge

And the manager admits that although a draw would do his side - he will set out his stall to win the game.

“We’ll always play to win at home and here we need to play with intensity.

“The crowd will play a huge part, their energy will be fabulous and the players will respond to that.

“It’s difficult when you’re away from home, in Prague we drew 0-0 against a very good team.

“Yes we could have been better with the ball but it’s difficult away from home sometimes.

“We need the game to be difficult for the Czech Republic with that combination on the pitch and in the stands,” added the manager.

It would be a huge result for O’Neill’s men to get the draw or victory they need to secure second spot in the group and a play-off spot - but the job is far from finished.