By Ian Parker, PA
Steven Davis wants only one thing from his record-breaking 126th appearance for Northern Ireland – a victory over Bulgaria.
The 36-year-old midfielder will move clear of Peter Shilton’s British caps record in Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier, but Davis said the only way to mark it properly would be with three crucial points.
“We have to get back to winning ways and find a way to win the game,” he said. “It’s a big landmark for me personally but my focus is on the game.”
— Steven Davis MBE (@StevenDavis8) March 26, 2021
Davis has broken a series of records in recent international windows, but this one will have a different feel as it takes place behind closed doors and without his family being able to attend.
“We’re in the bubble but once I get back home I can mark it with the wife and kids, which will be nice,” he said.
“We can’t wait to get the fans back in and we’re looking forward to getting then back. We’ll just try to get a win and then in September they’ll be back and we can push on.”
Manager Ian Baraclough has not shied away from calling Wednesday’s match a must-win fixture given the difficulty of Northern Ireland’s task of breaking into the top two of a group that also includes Italy and Switzerland.
To get the three points they need, Northern Ireland will need to end a long winless run, with Baraclough yet to enjoy victory inside 90 minutes after 10 games in charge.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) March 30, 2021
Though Thursday’s opening qualifier ended in a 2-0 defeat to the Italians in Parma, there was major encouragement to be taken from the second-half performance.
The challenge now is to replicate that against a Bulgaria side who have themselves won only one of their last 10 games – a 3-0 friendly victory over Gibraltar in November – and who lost their opening qualifier 3-1 at home to Switzerland last week.
“They’ll come here on the back of two defeats so they won’t want to give a great deal away,” Baraclough said.
“They shipped three goals to the Swiss very early on and were chasing the game from then on, it was an uphill task, so they’ll come here looking to not give anything away.
“They’ll defend and try to hit us on the counter, they’ll try to hit longer balls than Italy did.
“Anywhere around their final third they’ll be back in numbers, making us put balls into the box from deep and we’ll have to be patient.”
Baraclough reported a clean bill of health within the squad after several senior players sat out Sunday’s 2-1 friendly defeat to the United States.
That means Liam Boyce is the only player unavailable with the Hearts striker having remained in Scotland following the birth of his second child.
With a lack of goals a major problem for Baraclough, the manager said the 29-year-old would be missed but he felt his side still carries a major threat.
“Boycey is another type of striker, he’s different to the others, they’ve all got their own attributes,” Baraclough said.
“We know how good a footballer Boycey is, his link-up play, so not to have that choice is tough, but I think with the six strikers we’ve got – and I include Niall McGinn in that – I think we’ve got a really good bearing of what we need to break the Bulgarians down.”