Chris Brunt has cast some stark reality on Northern Ireland’s prospects of being part of the Euro 2012 finals next summer.
Chances of making history — no Northern Ireland team has ever played in a European Championships — have taken a serious hit thanks to Friday night’s 1-0 defeat by Serbia at Windsor Park.
Now Nigel Worthington and his men will have to do things the hard way if they’re to be playing in Poland and Ukraine next summer — and it’s a very hard way indeed.
“It gives us an uphill task now,” admitted Brunt.
“We’ve probably got to win our last three games, but we’re confident that we can go to Estonia and get a result.”
Many fans have given up all hope but, thanks to Estonia beating Slovenia on Friday night, if the Baltic nation can be beaten twice and a shock win is recorded in Italy then Northern Ireland will book a play-off berth.
Then a place in the finals will hinge on a two-legged battle with one of the other group runners-up.
“Other results in our group weren’t expected, but they’ve helped us,” said Brunt.
“There’s no reason why we can’t go to Estonia and get a result to keep us in it.
“We’ve shown in Slovenia last year what we are capable of away from home. Now we have to go out and put in that kind of performance all over again.”
The outcome of Friday night’s game could have been very different.
The Serbs had failed to turn their first-half dominance into goals, but it was the same tale for Northern Ireland.
The second-half display from Nigel Worthington’s team was in stark contrast to the opening 45 minutes.
It was a classic case of needing to score while on top, or risk missed opportunities being costly — which was exactly how it turned out.
Grant McCann, Corry Evans and Brunt himself all had chances to break the deadlock before Windsor Park was silenced by Marko Pantelic’s winning strike following Steve Davis’ wayward backpass.
“You have to take your chances when they come your way — especially at international level when you don’t get too many,” said Brunt.
“Serbia defended well when we broke. We were probably the better side when they scored and that deflated us a bit.
“We have to pick ourselves up now and get on with Tuesday night.”
Sammy Clingan missed Friday’s game, but travelled with the squad to Estonia and took part in last night’s training session.