Belfast boy Brunt keeps West Brom bouncing back...
Stamford Bridge on the season's opening day last August: Chelsea, Premier League champions and Double winners, are hosting West Bromwich Albion, just promoted after finishing second in the Championship. It is 1-0 after six minutes; the final score is 6-0. As West Bromwich captain Chris Brunt reveals, then manager Roberto di Matteo addressed the beaten dressing room with the words: 'Well, you're not going to have to play Chelsea every week.' Point to prove: ?If we stay up, it will bebetter than our last two promotions,? says captain Brunt Indeed. But the two sides meet again today and such is the turnaround from August, the last team, bar Manchester United, that Chelsea would like to be facing today are West Bromwich. Unbeaten in seven games since Roy Hodgson succeeded Di Matteo, the Baggies are boing-boing boisterous. Chelsea, meanwhile, have a hangover the size of Europe. 'We got what everyone expected that day at Chelsea,' Brunt says. 'We showed a lot of naivety. The first three goals we conceded were all avoidable. You give yourself no chance. 'But we took some positives because we played some decent stuff. Admittedly, we weren't working Petr Cech too hard, and we showed our Achilles' heel. But we picked ourselves up. We then beat Sunderland.' West Bromwich beat Sunderland again last week, coming from behind twice. They are known as the ultimate yo-yo club and 'bouncing back' could be their motto, but there is extra strength in this year's bounce. As Chelsea may discover. Seven points above third-bottom West Ham, Brunt, who has been at the Hawthorns for almost four years, adds: 'If we stay in the Premier League it'll be a great success for the club, because in the last 10 years it's something we've failed to do. It'd be better than the two promotions I've been involved in. I'd be very proud. We'd deserve our holiday.' Pressure point: Chris Brunt scores from the penalty spot against Liverpool Like Kevin Nolan at Newcastle and Charlie Adam at Blackpool, Brunt is the goalscoring midfield captain of a promoted team who have invigorated the Premier League this season. He is 26 with a touch of the Belfast-born street player about him. His father Colin was a good amateur rugby outside-half. Leading scorer the last time West Brom were up, two years ago, this season Brunt has four goals and 11 assists. Only Nani has more Premier League assists. Brunt's last two goals marked him and his team out. They were the two penalties against Liverpool a fortnight ago. Brunt, with that clean striking left boot of his, smacked them past Pepe Reina. Hodgson had overcome the club he recently departed. 'There was a lot of hype about the manager's first game against Liverpool,' Brunt says, 'but for us it was more about just winning a game. If we hadn't scored that second goal against Liverpool we'd have been only two points above relegation. Now if we win another couple of games there's no reason why we can't be in the top 10.' These we r e bi g moments in West Bromwich's season, possibly their history. Was he nervous? 'I tend not to get nervous, not when I'm on a football pitch. But that second penalty against Liverpool was probably the most pressure I've had. I'd missed my previous penalty against Arsenal. 'But I'm most at home on a football pitch. I was definitely more nervous when I made a speech at my wedding.' According to friends, Brunt was anxious that day. Now he and his wife are expecting a second child on Monday. Victory over Chelsea would make for some weekend, and would help change perceptions of West Bromwich. 'There's a lot made of the yo-yo club,' he says. 'But we weren't far off staying up last time and this year we've added a few players, building towards becoming a solid Premier League club. 'A lot of clubs are struggling financially, but West Brom won't because we are so well run. People want instant success but if there's a blueprint of how to do it gradually and become a healthy Premier League club, then West Brom deserve to be looked at.' In saluting the club's stability, however, Brunt knows that after Tony Mowbray and Di Matteo, Hodgson is a third manager in under two years. There are different strands to a stable club. But Brunt is a fan of the new man in charge. 'He sees everything, does not miss a thing,' Brunt says of Hodgson. 'He makes you think, gives you ideas. 'There's positional elements he's made us think about, he's made us think more about ourselves as a unit. If you ask the lads, they'll all say that. He's just so good at his job.' Hodgson has bounced back at Albion. It is a theme that Brunt recognises because he was rejected by Rangers as a boy, one of a few setbacks. 'It's about how you pick yourself up. In my early career I had a few knockbacks, even at schoolboy level. Then to be released at Middlesbrough after two-and-ahalf years at the Riverside was gutting, but you've just got to get on with it. 'All I ever wanted was a football career. I think I've improved each season. In 20 years' time I'd like to look back at myself and say, "I was a Premier League footballer".' Explore more:People: Kevin Nolan, Tony Mowbray, Petr Cech, Pepe Reina, Roberto Di Matteo, Roy Hodgson, Charlie Adam Places: Belfast, Liverpool, Europe
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