sport

Brunt eyes support from '12th man'

West Bromwich Albion midfielder Chris Brunt has called for Northern Ireland to bring the good times back to Windsor Park.

The national side have not won in their last five matches on home soil, with former manager Nigel Worthington losing his last two games in Belfast and successor Michael O'Neill presiding over two draws and a defeat to date.

That sequence is a far cry from the days when the likes of England and Spain were both defeated, but West Brom captain Brunt is desperate to see a return.

A morale-boosting 1-1 draw in Portugal last month lifted the mood around the side, who now have an inviting chance to follow up with a home victory over Azerbaijan on Wednesday night.

Brunt, who has at times been on the wrong end of terrace criticism, accepts that bringing an improved atmosphere

to Windsor Park is essential if that is to be achieved.

"The nights when we have had good results at Windsor the fans have been our 12th man, as they say," he said. "The last few home games maybe haven't been like that, maybe because we haven't provided the results.

"It's just about trying to win the game. You don't have to play well every time to win the game, but keeping the fans on board is a big part of it as well.

"It's up to us to give them something to get behind us with instead of the Luxembourg game last time out where we started well and then it sort of died. You can hear the frustration from the stands and then the lads get frustrated as well.

"We are a small country with a small pool of players, but at the same time the games we have done poorly in have been against other small nations.

"We got a decent result against Portugal, but we are not going to be 2-0 up after 15 minutes against Azerbaijan. We don't necessarily have to play well, but we want to win."

As a Barclays Premier League regular, and a proven match winner for the Baggies, Brunt has long been seen as crucial to Northern Ireland's prospects.

Yet he has underperformed at times and his tally of just one international goal in 39 caps is a clear disappointment.

Brunt was injured for the redemptive trip to Portugal and saw the likes of Niall McGinn, Oliver Norwood and Corry Evans put in their best performances to date in midfield.

And despite his status in the squad, he accepts he may now face a battle for his place.

"I had to watch the Portugal match at home and listen to the commentary. I was sitting on the edge of my seat at home," he said.

"You couldn't fault anyone on the night. It was a great performance and I was gutted for the lads they didn't get three points.

"It is nice to be back involved but the boys did really well in Portugal, so you come to this game not expecting to get straight back in.

"The lads did amazingly well and were superb. It is down to Michael who plays on Wednesday night.

"Hopefully I get a chance on Wednesday and can help Northern Ireland win."

O'Neill lost a fifth member of his initial 24-man squad this morning, with Peterborough's Grant McCann returning home for family reasons.

The midfielder's wife is heavily pregnant and he flew back to England today to join her.

No replacements have been called up, with O'Neill already having added Billy McKay, Danny Lafferty and Ryan McLaughlin to his squad following the withdrawals of Jonny Evans, Andy Little, Alex Bruce and Jamie Ward.