Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Northern Ireland v Estonia: New manager won’t solve our problems, says Brunt

Chris Brunt doesn’t believe a new manager is the answer to all of Northern Ireland’s problems.

As another qualifying campaign seems certain to end in a familiar hard luck story, pressure is mounting on the Irish FA to blow the final whistle on Nigel Worthington’s managerial reign.

The former Norwich City boss was subjected to personal abuse after the 4-1 loss in Estonia while another fuming fan hurled his Northern Ireland shirt in Worthington’s direction during the defeat to Serbia.

Former Northern Ireland boss Lawrie Sanchez was quick to put the boot into Worthington and say he wanted to return to the post.

While that option doesn’t appear to be on the table as many of the players would not support it, IFA chiefs may look for a fresh injection of ideas at the end of the campaign.

Michael O’Neill, who has guided Shamrock Rovers into the Europa League group stages, would be a leading contender for the role.

If Northern Ireland crash to another defeat at home to Estonia tomorrow night, the pressure on the Ballymena man will intensify and it’s the fans’ reaction that may force the IFA to act.

However, West Brom skipper Brunt does not believe a new manager would represent a magic pill, curing Northern Ireland of its international headache.

“At the end of the day the manager can only pick the same players that are qualified to play for the country,” said the Belfast man.

“Ever since I’ve been involved with Northern Ireland a new manager comes in, starts off well then there’s a few bad results and a few good ones.

“There has been inconsistency but on the whole our qualifying campaigns have been decent.

“We have a few lads that are ageing a little bit as well so it will be interesting to see how we react when or if their time (to retire) comes as well.”

The absence through injury of Paddy McCourt and Kyle Lafferty for the crucial double-header against Serbia and Estonia highlighted once again the lack of strength in depth any Northern Ireland manager must work with.

For that reason, expectation levels should not be raised to unreasonable levels.

Worthington’s problem is that the frustration felt by Northern Ireland fans is understandably deep — it’s been 25 years since an appearance at a major finals.

Brunt, who hopes to win his 36th cap against Estonia tomorrow night, is desperate to put smiles back of fans’ faces but it’s difficult to escape the feeling of what might have been.

“The last two results have killed us,” he said.

“Obviously we are bitterly disappointed as everyone wants to make it to a major final.

“It’s now out of our hands again and we are disappointed.

“There have been some good performances and some poor and those poor ones cost you.

“It is in the lap of the Gods with regard to what happens but obviously we have to try and get two results.

“We are definitely capable of getting a result against Estonia and we all know Italy will be difficult.

“We played well against Italy in Belfast and now that they are home and dry you never know.

“But we need a good performance on Friday night to make up for the defeat in Estonia.

“The manner in which we lost there was very disappointing.

“Revenge is not the right word, obviously we didn’t play well on the night and that’s what annoyed us.

“You can’t legislate for mistakes and it wouldn’t be right to point fingers at boys who have defended very well in previous games.

“Now it would nice to finish on a high rather than have those two defeats lingering in your mind.”

Steven Davis will be handed the captain’s armband on the occasion of his 50th cap tomorrow night and Brunt feels the Rangers skipper has all the leadership qualities to take over the international armband permanently from Aaron Hughes.

“He’s been doing the job at Rangers and playing very well so he’d naturally be one of the favourites to become captain,” said Brunt.

“I think everyone would be happy with that — a popular choice among players and fans. He has performed well for Northern Ireland as well so that’s in his favour.

“We have a number of experienced players so it’s up to the manager.

“But it would be nice to put in a decent performance for Steven on his 50th cap.

“That’s a fantastic achievement for him so hopefully we can get something out of the game.”

Meanwhile, Worthington says he has no problem with Josh McQuoid featuring in a reserve game for Millwall on Tuesday night — despite pulling out of the Northern Ireland squad suffering from a virus.

“I knew he had a virus but I also knew about the reserve team game,” said Worthington. “Reserve team football and a big international are very different. We need players who are ready and 100% prepared for the challenge.”

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