Sanchez attracted by eager Davis

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The Independent Online

Lawrie Sanchez is demanding an end to a dismal run of home results when Northern Ireland face Canada in a friendly at Windsor Park tonight.

Lawrie Sanchez is demanding an end to a dismal run of home results when Northern Ireland face Canada in a friendly at Windsor Park tonight.

While the team have made steady progress under Sanchez - only two defeats in 11 games - they have not won in front of their own people since 2001.

That was when Iceland were thumped 3-0, and since then there have been a series of false dawns. Sanchez is nonetheless convinced his team is on the rise - which is why he has asked for a two-year extension to his contract, which is due to expire at the end of the World Cup qualifiers.

An offer has been made, and the situation is expected to be resolved before the match against England at Old Trafford on 26 March. "It is something that should be settled very quickly," Sanchez said yesterday. The IFA's vice-president, Raymond Kennedy, added: "We will be looking at his contract very shortly. Lawrie has helped raise our profile."

Sanchez is expected to hand a first start tonight to the 20-year-old Aston Villa midfielder Steve Davis. A good performance could see the player retain the jersey in the showdown against England.

"If Steve comes in and scores a hat-trick I don't think I could ignore that," said Sanchez. "What I like about him is that he has not changed the way he plays in the first team. It is the same as if he is in the reserve or youth sides. We took him with us to Azerbaijan last year, and since then he has gone on. He has great enthusiasm."

Striker Andy Kirk is poised to win his sixth cap after a two-year absence. He has scored 19 goals for the League Two side Boston, having left Hearts last May. Sanchez said: "Andy took a step back but now he is in such good form that Championship sides are having a look at him. He deserves his call-up."

Kirk looks likely to partner David Healy - the Leeds striker having returned to training following a groin strain. Keith Gillespie (virus) and Mark Clyde (ankle) also took part in training yesterday.

Canada are ranked 15 places above Northern Ireland at 95 in the Fifa rankings but their coach, Frank Yallop, will field an inexperienced side. The former Ipswich defender hands only a second start to the Montreal Impact goalkeeper Greg Sutton.

Hearts defender Kevin McKenna will captain the side, while Norwich midfielder Jim Brennan is also included. Yallop said: "I want to look at the players under tough situations, and this will be a tough game."

Northern Ireland (probable): Taylor (Birmingham) or Carroll (Manchester United); Clyde (Wolverhampton), Hughes (Newcastle), Murdock (Crewe), Capaldi (Plymouth), Gillespie (Leicester), Whitley (Sunderland), Davis (Aston Villa), Mulryne (Norwich), Healy (Preston), Kirk (Boston).

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