Midfielder Grant McCann has withdrawn from the Northern Ireland squad for personal reasons.
The Peterborough player's wife is heavily pregnant and McCann has returned home to be with her, ruling himself out of Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan. The 32-year-old had anticipated a clash, tweeting on Thursday: "Praying my wife has the baby before I meet up next week with N Ireland. Thought it was coming today, but wasn't to be."
The Irish Football Association confirmed the news in a short statement on Monday morning. It read: "Grant McCann has withdrawn from the Northern Ireland squad to play Azerbaijan on Wednesday due to family reasons. No replacements have been called up."
O'Neill responded to Ward's departure by summoning uncapped Inverness striker Billy McKay and added Liverpool teenager Ryan McLaughlin and Burnley full-back Danny Lafferty to the group on Sunday.
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 Brunt is desperate to see a return.
A morale-boosting 1-1 draw in Portugal last month lifted the mood around the side and 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."