Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football

Brunt eyeing Windsor wins

Chris Brunt hopes Sunday's crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against Finland can be the first in a series of Windsor wonders for Northern Ireland.

The West Brom midfielder was one of a handful of senior men who missed Wednesday's friendly defeat against Scotland but is set to return to the side with vital points at stake this weekend.

Northern Ireland are well set after four games in Group F, with nine points from a possible 12, and four of their remaining six matches on home turf.

It all adds up to a promising equation for Michael O'Neill's men as they eye their first ever European Championship appearance, but Belfast has not always been a happy hunting ground of late.

O'Neill's first campaign involved just one win from five home fixtures, a run that included disappointing draws against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.

They had a straightforward assignment against the Faroe Islands in October, and now Brunt wants to build momentum against the Finns.

"Our home form wasn't great in the last campaign," Brunt admitted.

"We have started this campaign well with two away wins, but the home win over the Faroes was also an important result. To build on that would be great.

"In the last few years, those games were the ones that have tended to let us down, so it was nice to get a positive result in October. Hopefully we can take that on and carry it on in our remaining home games.

"We have four home games left in the campaign and if we get as many points out of those as possible, we'll have a great chance of qualifying. Those will determine what happens to us in the rest of the group."

Spirits will not have been dampened too much by the 1-0 loss in Glasgow, with O'Neill standing down the likes of Brunt, Gareth McAuley, Kyle Lafferty, Jamie Ward, Niall McGinn and Roy Carroll in favour of fringe players.

They are all likely to return to action against Finland, and goalkeeper Carroll expects them to take the field with a real sense of confidence.

"Michael and the coaching staff have changed players' feelings about going out and performing well," said the Notts County stopper.

"Now we go out thinking we can win every game. I always want to win no matter what team we're playing or how we're doing but for some players maybe belief is much higher than it used to be.

"We don't have the biggest squad in the world but we have players who can go out and believe now."

Carroll's place is not in doubt despite Michael McGovern's impressive stand-in performance in midweek, but O'Neill faces a tougher decision in defence.

Former captain Aaron Hughes would become the country's record outfield cap holder if he is selected for a 96th time but a lack of games at Brighton make him vulnerable to the challenge of Manchester United's Paddy McNair, who debuted against Scotland.

Your Comments

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph