Belfast Telegraph

Russia v Northern Ireland: Brunt wants central role in O'Neill's plans

By Paul Ferguson

Forget Red Square and the Kremlin, frustrated Chris Brunt wants to be the star attraction for Northern Ireland in Moscow this week.

Or rather, the centre of attention.

It’s nothing do with ego or even a high opinion of himself.

Instead, the West Brom skipper simply feels he has finally come up with a solution to the problem which has dumbfounded Northern Ireland managers and fans alike since the 27-year-old made his international debut in 2004.

Why does he never seem to reproduce his excellent club form in a green jersey of Northern Ireland?

Brunt obviously has exceptional talent and that is certainly evident most weeks in the Premier League and the former Sheffield Wednesday star also has the ability to score stunning long-range goals as witnessed last week in the Capital One Cup.

But with only one international goal to his name and a string of mediocre international performances behind him, Brunt believes if he was played through the centre and just behind the striker, Northern Ireland fans would see a better utilised player contributing a great deal more to the game.

Brunt has spent years of playing on either the right or left flanks for his country without much joy and at times games seem to pass him by.

That’s why he is desperate to get more involved and would dearly love manager Michael O’Neill to play him through the centre against Russia tomorrow in Moscow (4.00pm) when Northern Ireland kick off their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Brunt’s belief is that if you give him the ball, he will make things happen.

However, with Shane Ferguson’s withdrawal earlier this week, boss O’Neill does not have many options on the left side of midfield, apart from Brunt.

Brunt, who along with his international team-mates arrived in Moscow yesterday afternoon after a four-hour flight from London, has already proved, when previous boss Nigel Worthington played him just off the striker, that he can be effective as a playmaker for Northern Ireland.

He’s now hoping O’Neill will take this on board and he can once again link up with hitman Kyle Lafferty.

That position is currently occupied by Rangers ace Dean Shiels, but Brunt has certainly given O’Neill (below) a great deal to think about before he finalises his team.

“It will depend on the manager where I play,” concedes Brunt.

“I quite enjoyed playing off the front man for Northern Ireland and I was able to get on the ball.

“It makes a big difference when Kyle plays. It gives you more freedom to play your own game and influence play more.

“Personally, I think I might be a bit more effective centrally, when I get more ball.

“Of course though, it depends on the opposition in many ways what influence I can have the game.”

Brunt, by his own admission, did not have the best of Euro 2012 qualifying campaigns and despite saying earlier this year he was considering his international future, he has a new-found enthusiasm for playing for his country.

“Yes, I want to do as well as I can to help the team,” admits Brunt.

“I definitely want to play more games in this campaign than I did in the Euros. I missed a few Euro qualifying games through injury so hopefully I can stay fit.

“I was disappointed with the last campaign, but hopefully this one can be a lot better for me personally, and the team.”

Having played in the Premiership for the last three seasons, Brunt has battled against some of the greatest teams in the world and indeed been part of Baggies sides that have shocked some of the giants of the game.

Moscow can be an intimidating place for a side to come and play, but Brunt insists Northern Ireland will not be overawed by the experience and says O’Neill’s team are ready to prove their doubters wrong as they aim to put down an early marker in a World Cup qualifying group that also contains Portugal, Israel, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.

Brunt says: “We have four games before Christmas and two of them away to Russia and Portugal. Those two will be really difficult.

“Nobody will give us much of a chance in those two qualifiers, but it's crucial we get up and running points-wise.

“We also have two home games before the turn of the year and it's important we pick up wins and points at Windsor.

“Those two games against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan are going to be vitally important for us heading forward.

“We want to be in a positive position, points wise, heading into 2013.

“We'll be working on things this week with those three games in mind.

“We want the supporters to get behind us so we can give everyone a run for their money in this campaign.”

Belfast Telegraph

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