NORTHERN IRELAND: O’Neill ready to bear the Brunt

Chris Brunt on duty for Northern Ireland. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Chris Brunt on duty for Northern Ireland. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Chris Brunt is set to slot straight back into Northern Ireland’s starting line-up.

The 31 year-old is back in the squad after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament blow back in February.

He started for West Brom against Manchester City last weekend and NI manager Michael O’Neill is delighted to welcome him back into his panel for the World Cup qualifier at home to Azerbaijan next Friday (November 11) and the friendly against Croatia four days later.

“Chris has been training well,” he said. “In the last few weeks, he has made great strides.

“We have four players who played in the Premier League (last weekend). We’d love to have 40. We can’t afford to ignore one of them and that’s the reality.

“We’ve played him at left back in the last couple of years, in particular in qualifying and he has done a great job for us there.

“When we took Shane Ferguson out of the team, we don’t have another left-footed player in the team. It means that we’re a little bit predictable in terms of delivery from set-pieces so having Chris back available will enhance our threat from those.

“He feels that he’s more than capable of being ready to play, which is a big bonus.

“The game against Man City was very tough. It doesn’t get any tougher than that coming back so he’s ready and he’s itching to play. He also recognises the importance of this game as well.”

Also returning to the squad is forward Will Grigg, who sat out the two previous squad after the recent birth of his child.

“He’s a player that still has to prove himself at this level,” said O’Neill. “He has to come and force his way into the team.

“Having had a good conversation with him after the last game, he’s ready to come back in. He’s a Championship player and has scored a number of goals this season and he deserves his place back in there.”