Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Brunt ready to help Northern Ireland flatten Faroe Islands

Niall McGinn battles Italy's Domenico Criscito
Kyle Lafferty celebrates on the final whistle
Warren Feeney and Stefano Mauri (right)

West Brom star Chris Brunt believes the ‘fear factor’ will ensure Northern Ireland come away from the Faroe Islands this week with their reputation still intact.

Nigel Worthington’s men are in Torshavin for tomorrow afternoon’s crucial Euro 2012 qualifier with a side ranked 138th in the world and managed by former Republic chief Brian Kerr.

The Faroes, rock bottom of Group C, have conceded 15 goals from their four games in the campaign so far and are yet to get off the mark while Northern Ireland are sitting pretty on four points from two games.

Northern Ireland are expected to prevail in the the north Atlantic — however the Faroes came within seconds of beating Group C surprise package Estonia in August when they led 1-0 after 90 minutes but ended up losing 2-1 in time added on.

And last year, the Faroes beat Iceland in a friendly and Lithuiania in a World Cup qualifier.

Clearly Kerr, and his assistant, former Newry City boss John McDonnell, have their men primed to caused upsets.

Brunt, who has excelled for the Baggies in the Premier League this season, insists Northern Ireland will respect the Faroes and play a high tempo game in top gear.

The objective is not only to secure three vital qualifying points but also to make sure Northern Ireland don’t return home embarrassed by the minnows.

“There’s no credit in this for us. Winning is everything yet even then people will say it was to be expected. If we lose then we are a laughing stock,” concedes Brunt, who will earn his 30th cap tomorrow.

“We need to be mentally strong on the pitch and give our usual 100 per cent effort. If you don’t that’s when you can get stung.

“Three points are all that matter and just like the manager said after our draw with Italy, I’d happily take a 1-0 win.

“This game will be a big deal for the Faroe Islands, they’ll want to get one over on us so it is imperative we don’t allow them to achieve their goal.”

Northern Ireland down the years have struggled against so called lesser opposition and indeed could only draw 1-1 with the Faroes at Windsor Park in 1991 when Nigel Worthington played at left back.

Brunt, though, believes the experience of playing and beating the likes of Liechtenstein and San Marino in recent times will hold Worthington’s men in good stead.

“There is a great deal of pressure on us to get the win and that’s to be expected against the Faroes,” says 25-year-old Brunt, who actually scored his only Northern Ireland against San Marino in February 2009.

“But we’ve been in this situation before against Liechtenstein and San Marino and come away with wins. The Faroes will try to frustrate us, defend deep and it’s up to us to break them down.

“There have been a few strange results in the group so far — we don’t want to be another one.

“Group C is wide open with the likes of Estonia beating Serbia. We need to make sure to stay in the hunt for qualification and the only way we can do that is by beating the Faroes and claiming the three points.”

Gareth McAuley is hoping this could be the best season of a career that has been slow to gather momentum.

After working his way through the Irish League with Linfield, Crusaders and Coleraine, the defender finally found an English side willing to take him on.

Lowly Lincoln were the launchpad six years ago and the place where he began to raise his profile.

Leicester were his next stop and after their relegation to the third tier he was snapped up by Ipswich.

Now 30, McAuley is a key figure in Roy Keane's Ipswich side pushing for promotion to the Barclays Premier League.

He has also become a vital component in a Northern Ireland team, who have made an impressive start to their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

McAuley is savouring the moment after winning his 24th cap but keeping his feet on the ground. He said: “Things are going well for me. You have just got to ride with it. I am not take anything for granted and working as hard as ever.

“It is an important stage in my career as it is for a lot of lads in this group. I still have the ambition and drive to try to achieve something.”

The Faroes lost 5-1 to Slovenia on Friday night but McAuley is now complacent.

“There are no easy games in football, never mind international football, “ he said.

“They have Brian Kerr in charge as well. He will have them organised and will have done his homework.”

Northern Ireland are in a good position in the group following Serbia's shock home defeat by Estonia. But skipper Aaron Hughes insists they should not get ahead of themselves.

He said: “There's an awful lot of football still to be played so we just focus on each game. It is great to get some points on the board and get off to a good start for a change from the previous campaigns. But we can only look at what is ahead.”

It speak volumes for the squad spirit that Hughes and his team-mates were disappointed not to have beaten Italy.

Boss Worthington said: said: “It was a performance with a lot of character, determination and resilience. The discipline in the team was fantastic. Everyone stuck to their task.

“We knew Italy would have a lot of possession and one of the pleasing things for me is that the players are disappointed they have not won the game.

“They feel we had the better chances. That shows to me what the players’ mental state is. Also we did not play as well as we can, which is passing the ball. It was a great point against ex-world champions.”

It was a credit to Worthy’s troops that Italiancoach Cesare Prandelli had no complaints about the result.

He said: “Our mental approach was strong and Northern Ireland got a big advantage from the crowd. It was a fair result, I feel. We had a lot of chances but suffered some bad luck with our finishing. But I was pleased with the work the team put in.”

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