Northern Ireland captain Steven Davies reached a landmark this evening, winning his 119th cap for Northern Ireland, equalling the great Pat Jennings’ record which has stood for 34 years. It proved a night to forget as Erling Haaland and Norway ran amok in Belfast.
It was a similar story when the 20 year-old Aston Villa starlet made his international debut, also in Belfast, against Canada on 10 February 2005.
In between of course, Davis has had a wonderful career with seven seasons in the Premier League with Southampton sandwiched between two spells at Rangers, and great success as Northern Ireland’s captain and leader on the pitch which included Euro qualification at France 2016.
But let’s go back to that debut against Canada, which carried not just a little interest for soccer fans here in Montreal.
Northern Ireland it’s fair to say were on the crest of a slump and hadn’t won a competitive match for almost 4 years, but with half a dozen Premier League players such as Keith Gillespie, Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird in their ranks, the Canadians were merely expected to be a pushover.
It didn’t happen though, despite Gabriel Gervais having a truncated evening. The Impact defender saw yellow for the second time on 22 mins after blocking striker David Healy and off he went for an early bath.
The ten Canucks took the game to the Irish and shocked the windswept Windsor Park crowd when Brossard native Olivier Occean put them ahead ten minutes after Gervais’ dismissal. Current York9 manager Jimmy Brennan, then of Norwich City, delivered a perfect cross and Occean bulleted his header past Birmingham’s Taylor.
Patrice Bernier, then of Tromso, played the full 90 mins for the Canadians, and Greg Sutton became the first Canadian goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in Europe for 16 years; the last occasion was during a 1-0 win over the Faroe Islands in Klaksvik, in April 1989. Pat Onstad was in goal.
At times though the Canadian goal led a charmed life, the ball rebounding off an upright no fewer than three times, twice from David Healy efforts. Dwayne de Rosario also had a chance to seal the victory for Canada close to the finish. His deflected attempted beat Taylor in goal, but this time the frame of the goal came to Northern Ireland’s rescue.
So there you have it, a famous 1-0 victory in Europe for Canada’s ten men.
As a matter of fact the countries have met three times and the land of my birth has yet to win, something I often remind friends on visits home: two wins to Canada and a draw.