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Ian Baraclough urges pundits to "stop trying to retire" Steven Davis

Ian Baraclough urges pundits to
© Reuters
The Rangers midfielder equalled Peter Shilton's British record of 125 caps in Thursday's World Cup qualifier against Italy.

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has urged pundits to "stop trying to retire" Steven Davis from international football.

The Rangers midfielder equalled Peter Shilton's British record of 125 caps in Thursday's World Cup qualifier against Italy, and was instrumental in a strong second-half performance, even though goals from Domenico Berardi and Ciro Immobile saw it end in a 2-0 defeat.

Davis has long been asked how much longer he will keep playing international football, with last year's defeat in the Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final seen as a potential exit point, but the 36-year-old has shown no interest in walking away and Thursday's display underlined why.

"Certainly any questions about Steven Davis should be put to bed, hopefully," Baraclough said.

"He was awesome in the middle of the park.

"He didn't look out of place at all, as I knew he wouldn't, so please stop trying to retire him."

Though first-half lapses cost Northern Ireland, they were the better team for long stretches after the break, with Davis at the centre of affairs – with only a final product missing.

"I take huge pride in equalling the record, but unfortunately it didn't have the fairy tale ending I would have liked," Davis said.

Italy v Northern Ireland – FIFA 2022 World Cup – Qualifying – Group C – Stadio Ennio Tardini
Ciro Immobile's goal before half-time gave Italy a 2-0 lead in Parma (Alessio Marini/PA)

"It's disappointing and we maybe weren't as aggressive in the first half as we were in the second, but we'll take positives from the game and move forward."

Immobile's strike six minutes before half-time should have put Italy in complete control but instead Northern Ireland came out on the front foot after the break, with Gavin Whyte, Michael Smith and Paddy McNair all having clear sights of goal.

"I think we came out and showed our character in the second half," Davis added. "We really had a go at Italy and gambled a little bit and created some big chances.

"If you take one of them, it becomes a little bit edgy for them in the final minutes of the game.

"On another night we might have taken some of those chances, but the important thing is that we were able to create chances at a difficult place to come.

Italy v Northern Ireland – FIFA 2022 World Cup – Qualifying – Group C – Stadio Ennio Tardini
Ian Baraclough's side face Bulgaria on Wednesday after this weekend's friendly with the United States (Alessio Marini/PA)

"There are definitely things we can work on, particularly from the first half, but there are also positives we can take into the rest of the campaign."

Northern Ireland return to Belfast to face the United States in a friendly on Sunday before Bulgaria visit Windsor Park for a vital qualifier on Wednesday night.

"We have to be realistic," Davis added. "We have to win games like this if we want to give ourselves an opportunity to try and do something in this group.

"That will be our mentality going into the Bulgaria game on Wednesday."

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England manager Gareth Southgate pictured on September 8, 2020
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