Preparation is vital, says NI skipper Davis

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis. Photo: Presseye
Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis. Photo: Presseye

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis says next week’s trip to Turkey will be vital for their World Cup qualification hopes.

Michael O’Neill will take his team to Turkey to acclimatise before heading to Azerbaijan on Thursday for a match that could have a huge bearing on their bid to reach the 2018 finals.

“Their players will be more used to that than ourselves,” said the Southampton midfielder.

“It is important we get out into those conditions and get a few days’ training before we go to Baku.

“We have put ourselves in a good position in the group and have got an opportunity to strengthen that.

“They will be a different proposition from what we faced when we played them in Belfast but we believe we have the quality to get a result out there.

“We need to put in a similar performance as we did in Belfast and if we do that then hopefully we can go on and get the right result.”

Northern Ireland are second at the qualification’s halfway point and on course for a play-off berth behind Germany, though they expect a severe test in Baku next week.

O’Neill admitted the draw had not been kind with Northern Ireland heading to Azerbaijan in the baking June temperatures.

“This is the worst game we could have logistically at this time of the year,” O’Neill added.

“But that is the way the fixtures came out and we will have to deal with it. I think we will be fine. I am not overly concerned about the conditions.

“I also see in the players already that their preparation and application are really good.”

O’Neill will use tonight’s friendly against New Zealand to assess fringe players aiming to secure regular places in his squad.

He is keen to have a look at those Championship and League One players who saw their seasons end weeks ago.