08.10.2015 22:40 h

Davis double seals historic Euro berth for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland clinched an historic place at Euro 2016 on Thursday as captain Steven Davis inspired a 3-1 win over Greece that ended his country's long wait to reach a major tournament.

Davis's heroics guaranteed the Irish their first ever appearance at the European Championships and their first berth in a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

In front of a jubilant 12,000 capacity crowd at Windsor Park that included Northern Irish golf star Rory McIlroy, Southampton midfielder Davis put the Group F leaders ahead late in the first half and Kilmarnock forward Josh Magennis struck after half-time.

Davis netted again soon after as Northern Ireland's dominant display rendered next week's final qualifier against Finland irrelevant, leaving boss Michael O'Neill and his players to celebrate their remarkable run to next year's finals in France.

Northern Ireland had never qualified for the European Championships in 13 previous attempts, with even Manchester United legend George Best unable to lead his country to the continent's international showpiece.

But O'Neill has masterminded a fairytale qualifying campaign from an unheralded squad comprised of players drawn from minnows like Hamilton, Melbourne City, Fleetwood, Luton, Ross County and Kilmarnock.

Fittingly, O'Neill had to prove once again that he could mold a winning unit from disparate parts after the team's leading goal-scorer Kyle Lafferty, Chris Baird and Conor McLaughlin were all suspended against Greece, while key defender Jonny Evans was sidelined with a hamstring injury.

The boss was up to the task and Magennis, making his first competitive international start just a few years after being registered as a goalkeeper with Cardiff, was the poster boy for O'Neill's talents as he ran the Greece defence ragged.

With so much at stake, the home side couldn't have wished for better opponents than Greece, who were bottom of Group F and hadn't won a competitive match since last year's World Cup.

O'Neill's men tore into the Greeks from the start and threatened in the opening moments when Magennis lashed into the side-netting.

They went close again when Stuart Dallas's low cross was only cleared to Magennis and he fired in a goalbound effort that Greece defender Vangelis Moras blocked bravely.

Jamie Ward drilled just over from 25 yards as the hosts pushed again and their pressure was finally rewarded in the 35th minute.

Corry Evans played a sublime angled pass to Dallas on the right-hand side of the penalty area and he pulled a low cross back to Davis, who slid in to score from close-range.

Davis came to his team's rescue at the other end before half-time when he hooked clear just as Kostas Mitroglou was about to pull the trigger from six yards out.

And with the last kick of the half, Northen Ireland rode their luck again as Mitroglou's shot cannoned back off a post.

But any doubts that Greece might spoil the script were ended in the 49th minute.

Magennis, epitomising the ferocious desire of his team, overpowered his marker to meet a corner with a close-range header that looped up and into the net.

That sparked wild celebrations among the green-and-white clad fans and the noise level grew even louder in the 59th minute when Davis met a half-cleared set-piece with a bullet header into the far corner from just inside the area.

Christos Aravidis tapped in for Greece in the 86th minute, but his first international goal was an instantly forgotten footnote.