Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill the man to bring Northern Ireland on: Brunt

By Graham Luney

Chris Brunt has backed Michael O'Neill to steer Northern Ireland to calmer waters.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss is a man under pressure, still waiting on his first win since taking over the reins in February 2012.

O'Neill hasn't been able to cherish that winning feeling eight games on from his appointment as Northern Ireland boss.

It's a job that many bosses would regard as a poisoned chalice given the small pool of players to select from, some of whom will express a desire to play for the Republic of Ireland.

And it's certainly been a steep learning curve for the Portadown-born 43-year-old as he sets out to prove that after managerial spells at Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers he can conjure magic on the international stage.

His World Cup qualifying roller-coaster ride to date has featured more lows than highs, though a 1-1 draw in Portugal is a cherished memory.

Home stalemates against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan blotted the copybook but a win over Russia at Windsor Park tonight (7.45pm) would lift a huge weight off O'Neill's shoulders and Brunt believes fans should keep the faith.

"We have been improving under Michael but it's just getting that first win to get us started," said the 28-year-old Belfast man.

"Every time I have been in the squad I have thoroughly enjoyed it and he is taking us in the right direction. He is making sure we are doing the right things.

"Obviously it's a results-based business but for us to move forward Michael is the man to take us there, especially with the work we have been doing.

"We know we have to start winning games and Michael knows that too. All the lads will say we have really enjoyed working with him, Billy (McKinlay) and Tommy (Wright)." Brunt admitted it would be unfair and harsh to slaughter O'Neill after one qualifying campaign.

"It was always going to be very tough in this group," added the former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder. "We knew that as soon as the group was drawn and it's not my job to judge anyone. I can only tell you what I think when I'm training and when I'm playing.

"Michael speaks to his players regularly and he has a good relationship with us. It's a good set-up and hopefully it can continue."

Only one goal in 40 international appearances is not a statistic the set-piece magician is proud of. In February 2009 Brunt's free-kick helped Northern Ireland to a 3–0 victory over San Marino. The Russian defence, which has yet to concede a goal this World Cup qualifying campaign, will be much more difficult to unlock.

"I probably don't get as many chances playing for Northern Ireland than I do at club level," said Brunt.

"I'd like to score more goals from my club as well but I'm hungry to help in any way, by creating or scoring. That has been an issue for us since the time when David Healy was scoring for fun.

"We had loads of chances against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg but couldn't put them away."

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