Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland will be fully prepared for whoever we get in play-off, insists Chris Brunt

 

By Paul Ferguson

Chris Brunt admitted it was only natural Northern Ireland's performance would be affected by news just 52 minutes before kick-off in Oslo that Michael O'Neill's men had officially been confirmed in next month's World Cup play-offs.

Northern Ireland lost their second game in four days to Norway at the Ullevaal Stadion after Brunt was the unfortunate player to put the ball into his own net following a cross from Stefan Johansen that goalkeeper Michael McGovern couldn't deflect over the bar.

But the defeat had no bearing on Northern Ireland reaching the two-legged play-offs next month which will determined who goes to Russia as before kick-off Scotland's 2-2 draw with Slovenia in Ljubljana meant qualification for the play-offs was assured.

"We found out just before the warm-up," conceded Brunt. "I don't think you can hide anything now in football. But Michael told us before going out we were going to be one of the eight teams in the play-offs and once that happened you then had to think about players on the yellow cards and making sure no one picked up any injuries.

"Maybe subconsciously you do think about that - we managed to get through the game without losing anybody and that was a bonus for us.

"Personally I don't know whether it is good thing or bad thing to know that because there is then no pressure to win the game."

The Northern Ireland players were genuinely disappointed as they left the Ullevaal Stadion pitch last night at the final whistle and West Brom full back Brunt, who admitted he couldn't do anything to avoid scoring the own goal, said it shows how far O'Neill's men have come that they are down even though the 2,069 Green and White Army fans in attendance were celebrating.

"You get used to winning games and getting results," admitted 63 times capped Brunt.

"To be fair to Norway they caused us a few problems and probably deserved to win on the balance of the game. To lose two on the bounce, even though we've qualified for the play-offs just shows you that football can kick you in the teeth sometimes."

Brunt missed the Euro 2016 finals through injury, however he and his international team-mates are just two games away from being the first Northern Ireland team to make back-to-back major finals.

The 31-year-old says: "It's exciting - but you never know who you are going to get in the draw. We've seen that before that it's important not to get carried away. It's two more games and we'll find out soon enough who we meet.

"When the draw is made I'm sure Michael and his team will leave no stone unturned in making sure we are fully prepared for the opposition."

The play-off draw will be made in Zurich on Tuesday, October 17 while Northern Ireland will find out if they are a seeded team the day before - but it is highly unlikely after last night's defeat.

However, Brunt is not really concerned if Northern Ireland miss out on a seeding as the ultimate target was to reach the play-offs. Having been through the tough Northern Ireland times under Nigel Worthington and then the first two years of O'Neill's management, Brunt says these moments are ones to savour.

Brunt adds: "The last three or four years has been amazing. I think someone mentioned the other day the Israel game when we drew 0-0 at the end of the disappointing 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign when there was nothing to play for.

"We did alright that night and I think that was the turning point. We probably could have won the game and it gave us the belief we needed. The last two campaigns have been great, qualifying for the Euros and then carrying it on in these qualifiers.

I think that is as big an achievement as qualifying for France. When you go so far the big question is, can you keep that going? Credit to the staff - we have done that."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph