Belfast Telegraph

Winning mentality is spurring Northern Ireland on, maintains Chris Brunt

By Adam McKendry

Northern Ireland star Chris Brunt has praised the mentality within the squad after their 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Norway at Windsor Park on Sunday.

Michael O'Neill's men have been in good form, winning all three of their home qualifiers - scoring 10 goals and conceding none - while also picking up an impressive draw in Prague against the Czech Republic.

It means they're in a good position going into the second half of the campaign, currently sitting in second in Group C on 10 points and in line for a play-off spot for a place in Russia.

And 32-year-old Brunt believes that the positive mood within the camp following last summer's Euro 2016 finals has contributed to another successful qualifying campaign thus far.

"It's nice that the momentum has stayed with us because it could have gone the other way, it could have fizzled out, but it hasn't," said the West Brom man.

"The lads keep coming in and they're churning out performances, and even the guys who aren't playing keep turning up and putting pressure on the guys who do play to perform well.

"It's a good squad to be around and we've been playing well. We know how to get results - that probably wasn't a very pretty game to watch but we ground the result out."

While it perhaps wasn't pretty, Sunday's victory over the Norwegians was comfortable, with Northern Ireland able to ease to victory after first-half goals from Jamie Ward and Conor Washington.

Brunt, however, refused to accept that it was an easy win and argued that the visitors made O'Neill's men work for their latest three points. "It was comfortable enough in the end, it was nice to get the early goal to settle us down," he said. "They put a lot of long balls into the box - they actually did a lot of things we do to other teams and to be fair to the lads they coped with it really well.

"The three centre-halves can head the ball all day and they did that, and Michael (McGovern) when he was called upon made a great save from their free-kick which he probably didn't see until quite late.

"It was tough enough, we had to work quite hard and I think a few times in the second half we could have done a lot better than we did. But in the end it was important we got something from the game and 2-0 looks very comfortable."

Brunt himself cruelly missed out on the Euros last year due to a serious knee injury while playing for West Brom, after being one of Northern Ireland's most influential players during the qualifying process that saw them top their group.

However, he made his international return in the 4-0 home qualifying victory over San Marino, which he capped off with a goal, and is now focused on making sure he helps his country reach a second consecutive major tournament.

Brunt admits it was tough missing out, but says it's great to be back working with an excellent group of players and staff.

"It's nice to be back involved, obviously missing out on last summer was frustrating but it's nice to come back for these last two games and getting two wins," Brunt added.

"It's a good place to be around right now, we have a good group of lads, we have a great set of staff who are doing a great job and we're winning games which makes a big difference."

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