Belfast (AFP) – Chris Brunt put behind him the disappointment of missing Euro 2016 as he scored one and made another in Northern Ireland’s 4-0 whipping of Azerbaijan in their 2018 World Cup qualifier.
Brunt, who missed Euro 2016 because of a serious knee injury, also played most of Friday’s match with his head bandaged after a clash of heads early on.
However, the 31-year-old midfielder picked himself up and created Ireland’s second goal — Kyle Lafferty having put the hosts ahead — by Gareth McAuley before Colin McLaughlin added a third, his first international goal.
Brunt then deservedly got on the scoresheet himself.
Victory — tasting all the better in that their opponents had not conceded a goal in their three previous qualifiers — saw the Northern Irish go second in the table behind world champions Germany.
Lafferty, who enjoys iconic status in Norhtern Ireland with the main airport being named after him for a day during Euro 2016, struck in the 27th minute finishing from 10 yards out.
It was the first goal the visitors — who were missing their injured skipper Rashad Sadygo — had conceded in four qualifers.
The Azeris clearly missed injured skipper Rashad Sadygo and the hosts deservedly added another before half-time.
McAuley met Brunt’s excellent freekick with a bullet of a header to make it 2-0 five minutes from the break.
Azerbaijan showed a bit more spirit after half-time and they forged two chances within seconds of each other in the second-half as they tried to claw their way back into the match.
First Michael McGovern denied Denis Yilmaz and then Arif Dashderimov worked himself into a great position but his shot didn’t trouble the ‘keeper as it flew over the bar.
However, that brief flurry of defiance ended when McLaughlin headed into the Azeri net with just over 20 minutes remaining for his first ever international goal.
Brunt rounded off the scoring seven minutes from time with a sweetly-struck effort — although Steven Davis may have got a touch to it — to seal a super personal performance.
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