Thursday 26 April 2018

Chris Brunt: Norway defeat is disappointing, but I won't dwell on own-goal

Chris Brunt reacts after scoring an own goal for Northern Ireland
Chris Brunt reacts after scoring an own goal for Northern Ireland

Chris Brunt will not dwell on the own-goal gaffe that cost Northern Ireland in Norway as his country are still just a play-off away from making the World Cup finals.

Less than an hour before kick-off in Oslo on Sunday, Michael O'Neill's men learned they were assured of a two-legged tie to determine if they will reach Russia because Scotland had failed to beat Slovenia in one of the earlier games.

That provided relief and removed some pressure for the Northern Irish players at the Ullevaal Stadion, even if they knew that victory would have enhanced their chances of possibly being seeded for that play-off draw.

It was Norway who would emerge as winners, though, thanks to Brunt's 71st-minute mistake which saw him shank an attempted left-footed clearance into the roof of his own net after Michael McGovern had tipped a cross in the air.

"I went with my left foot to try and clear it thinking there was a player behind me and obviously I couldn't do much. I'm not thinking too much about the goal or the loss," the West Brom man said.

"To be defeated is disappointing, especially considering the campaign we've had and I think that is the first time in a long time we have had two defeats in a row.

"It's disappointing but obviously we knew before the game that we had qualified for the play-offs so that was going through our minds. I suppose it is job done in a round-about way."

O'Neill's teamsheet had already been lodged before the Scotland game finished and it included six players who would have missed the first leg of the play-off if they were booked again.

Thankfully for those of a Northern Irish persuasion, Brunt, not one of the half a dozen, was the only player shown a yellow card.

The 32-year-old admitted their perilous suspension situation became even more significant once it was known they would be involved in a play-off - and that players could potentially be suspended for the fixture.

"We found out just before the warm-up - I don't think you can hide anything now in football," Brunt said of learning about Scotland's result.

"Michael told us before going out we were going to be one of the eight teams in the play-offs.

"Personally I don't know whether it is good thing or bad thing to know that because there is then no pressure to win the game.

"Once that happened you then had to think about players on the yellow cards and making sure no one picked up any injuries.

"Maybe subconsciously you do think about that. We managed to get through the game without losing anybody and that was a bonus for us."

Not being seeded, a distinction that will now almost certainly evade Northern Ireland, means teams such as Portugal, Italy or Wales could lie in wait.

Yet having faced world champions Germany three times over the past 16 months, O'Neill sees no cause for trepidation.

"Whoever we get in the play-offs, it will not be as tough as playing Germany," he argued.

"I'm not sure being a seeded team will be a huge advantage, we will have to see the outcome of the games over the next 48 hours.

"I think we can be a threat. We know what we are, we're a difficult team to beat, there's no huge stars, we're made up of players who predominantly play their football outside the top divisions - they are well organised, play for each other and the shirt.

"We will aim to make life extremely difficult for whoever we get in the play-offs and know we are capable of doing that."

Press Association

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