WORLD CUP QUALIFIER: Chris Brunt ‘so important’ for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt salutes the fans at Windsor Park.
Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt salutes the fans at Windsor Park.

Chris Brunt’s return to Northern Ireland duty simply couldn’t have gone better.

A goal (even Steve Davis said so), an assist, a man of the match award AND a performance to send his side second in Group C.

Brunt, who is just back from a cruciate ligament injury, drove home the fourth - although some claimed captain Davis got the last touch - in Northern Ireland’s 4-0 win over Azerbaijan at Windsor Park last night.

It sent Michael O’Neill’s men above the visitors, and the boss was more than happy that the West Brom man was the star of the show.

“I’m delighted for him to be back, delighted for him to score,” he said. “It was a good night for him and you saw the reaction of the crowd to him - he’s a very important player to us.

“I think we saw again what a top player Chris Brunt is. Tony Pulis put him straight back into the team and now he’s straight back into ours.”

As if Brunt’s night wasn’t eventful enough, he also got a nasty gash to the head, playing most of the match in bandages.

“I was concerned for him when he went down,” said the boss. “It was a nasty gash. Obviously he’s coming off the back of the knee injury but it was testament to him that he got up and played on straight away.”

And O’Neill paid tribute to Brunt’s threat from set-pieces, which was evident as always.

“I thought Chris’ delivery was excellent again, consistently. It’s a big part of the game. I see some of the teams with the best players in the world capitalising on set-pieces so we won’t apologise for scoring off them.”