Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Finland: Chris Brunt knows the score for crucial Windsor clash

By Steven Beacom

Chris Brunt was surprised to hear that he was 28/1 with some bookmakers to score the first goal in tomorrow night's Euro 2016 qualifier at Windsor Park.

The West Brom player wasn't offended by the rather large price. He was modest enough to suggest it should have been higher!

Then again a quick look at his goalscoring record for Northern Ireland tells you the reason why.

Brunt has a blinding left foot and is often involved in set-pieces but hasn't scored for his country in 1894 minutes.

His last strike was way back in 2009 against San Marino, his only goal at international level in 48 games.

"I'd have gone higher than 28/1," said Brunt with a smile when the odds were pointed out.

"Obviously, I'd love to score more goals. In the last few years my club goal record has dropped when I've played a lot of positions.

"If I'm selected, and wherever I play, it would be great to score a goal. Any contribution you can make to the team is important."

While the 30-year-old took the question about his lack of goals well, he wasn't so pleased to be reminded of his last game at Windsor in September 2013 when he was red-carded against Portugal, the same night that Kyle Lafferty was sent off and Cristiano Ronaldo ran riot, scoring a hat-trick in a 4-2 victory.

He did provide an interesting answer, though, about the frustrations he finds in international football, perhaps giving an insight into why he has never truly performed to the levels he is capable of in a Northern Ireland shirt.

Brunt said: "It's never nice to get sent off but you can't dwell on it. In international games, you don't get away with as much as in club football.

"European players are maybe better at getting fouls and with our mentality we maybe get more frustrated. Me personally, I tend to get a lot more frustrated by things like that in international football than league games.

"I'd have been more disappointed with myself if I'd done something daft. It was two tackles and two bookings, you can't legislate for that. Ronaldo picked up the pieces and went on to win the game for them."

Finland won't have any players approaching the Real Madrid star's world class status, but Brunt isn't taking anything for granted ahead of tomorrow's qualifier or the campaign as a whole despite Northern Ireland's excellent position.

He does acknowledge that with four matches out of six left at Windsor in the campaign, there is a genuine chance to make it to France.

"Those matches in Belfast will determine what happens to us in the group," says Brunt, who could play at left-back or midfield against Finland.

"It would be nice to get off to a good start on Sunday and if we get a good result against Finland, it keeps them further away from the three sides that are close together at the top. That's an important factor too.

"Our form at the start of the campaign has been really good and we had a win and a clean sheet in our only home game against the Faroes so far. To build on that would be great.

"Obviously the crowd is going to be a big factor. There's a reduced capacity at Windsor, but when the fans get behind us, it spurs us on. It's a massive boost for us."

Belfast Telegraph