INTERNATIONAL: Brunt looking for Northern Ireland boost in Baku

Northern Ireland international Chris Brunt. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Northern Ireland international Chris Brunt. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Set-piece expert Chris Brunt is backing Northern Ireland to deliver the right performance in Baku.

Injury forced Brunt to miss last summer’s EURO 2016 party but he marked his return to the international scene with a goal and assist in Belfast as Northern Ireland defeated Azerbaijan by 4-0.

Three of the four goals arrived courtesy of set-piece play at the National Stadium last November and the West Bromwich Albion player considers it a key part of the weekend World Cup qualifying test.

“It will be important,” said Brunt. “If we can get the ball in where they have to defend it hopefully we can cause them problems as we did in Belfast, though I’m sure they may be more prepared this time.

“We’ll prepare as we do for every game and look to see where we can hurt them.

“Set-pieces and crosses were a big part of it in November.

“Not getting to play in the summer was disappointing, it’s part and parcel of football and there’s not much you can do about it.

“I missed the first couple of games of the World Cup campaign and saw that the boys were doing well and since we have continued to give ourselves a chance of qualifying and a good chance of making the play-offs.

“It will take a miracle to stop Germany winning the group but we have a realistic chance of a play-off spot and it would be great to qualify for a World Cup.

“It will be tough and I think the next couple of games will go a long way to determining that.

“They will know a lot more about us now.

“The last time we played in Baku we lost 2-0 they probably didn’t expect what we were going to do to them in November.”

Brunt and his team-mates have spent time in Turkey this week to aid preparations for the weekend high temperatures in a June test at the end of a demanding club campaign.

“You can’t make excuses but obviously the heat is going to be a big factor,” said Brunt. “It’s a lot harder chasing and trying to close people down and breaking on the counter-attack when it is warm, so we are going to have to play smart.

“The few days out in the heat has helped us prepare but it’s still different to when you get out in the actual game.

“European leagues go on a bit longer than ours so it is a difficult time of year to have the game.

“We have a good balance between experience and the younger lads coming through.

“Even those in the middle of the group have 30 to 40 caps now, I think it takes a lot to grow into international football.

“The more experience you get the better you become.

“In the friendly games and the tournament a lot of lads got a lot of caps, I think I missed around 10 from injury

“The young lads who have come into the squad have added a lot and I think they mix well.

“To be fair to Michael (O’Neill) he has created that with the way he sets up the trips and the training camps.”