West Bromwich Albion have been punching above their weight again, winning at Old Trafford then missing out on a win at Chelsea after a controversial penalty decision. Betfair went to meet club captain Chris Brunt before Monday's televised derby with Midlands rivals Aston Villa...
"If I’m honest we struggled against their front two of Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor last year so that’s something I’m sure we will be more aware of. But I think we are a bit stronger than we were last season too. We’ve brought in some good players in the summer and the squad is a bit deeper."
Hi Chris, your fans sing about being the Midlands top club. What does that mean to the players?
I think it's good for the fans mainly, although for us sometimes that brings a bit of pressure. Last year when we went two down to Villa we could hear a few things, but maybe it helped us pull a draw out of it. These are good games.
Villa have had a better start this season than they did last time, how do the teams compare?
If I'm honest we struggled against their front two of Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor last year so that's something I'm sure we will be more aware of. But I think we are a bit stronger than we were last season too. We've brought in some good players in the summer and the squad is a bit deeper.
Set pieces will be important. We saw some stats that every third corner you take ends up in a chance. What's the secret?
I don't know. You just put the ball in the area, don't you? I've taken set pieces since I was nine so I don't really think about it - when you have people like Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson attacking them - and Shane Long too - they probably make you look good.
You make it sound easy!
Well of course we do work on them, and there's no doubt they are important. A lot of games are won and lost on set plays - goals get scored from them at every level, so if it is a scrappy game you want to make sure you win it 1-0 rather than lose it. We go through them regularly and we all know our jobs before we go on the pitch.
After the draw at Chelsea you'll be hoping some refereeing decisions go your way.
We have been unfortunate in a couple of games. I think the Stoke one was the most blatant where we didn't get a penalty for the foul on Youssouf Mulumbu, then Howard Webb has come out and apologised afterwards. The one at Chelsea was bitterly disappointing - we were two minutes away from a big victory at Stamford Bridge. In fairness we were probably out of order with the way we got around the referee and protested, but it can be hard to take.
Does that put an extra spark into training, to bring a sense of grievance back to work?
It's been a long time coming from Chelsea to the Villa game. We could have done with it coming quicker. But the lads all look lively now, and we are pretty much back to business. You can't dwell on things in this League, you get punished if you do.
The club have said they will be talking to your manager Steve Clarke about a new contract in January. Your thoughts on that as club captain?
I think the results, and where we finished in the League last year, speak for themselves - and now the quality of the players we have brought in tells you a lot more about the job the gaffer has done. Roy Hodgson was always going to be a hard act to follow, but the gaffer has stepped in and done it with no problems. I am sure everybody at the club would love it to be sorted out.
Good to hear you supporting him even though he hasn't picked you so often this season!
Yes I wouldn't say it has been easy. It's been new for me because I've always played 40 games a season. But in fairness the gaffer has been very open, and you have to respect when you have a bigger squad that he has to make decisions. Our league is very challenging mentally, not just physically, as it places a lot of mental demands on players. You have to do a lot of thinking on the pitch, so to have extra bodies around the squad is a great thing for the coaching staff to have. If you look at the big teams, they have big squads and lots of good players, and if we want to get better, that's what we must aim for. Slowly we are starting to do that. It might be a bit tougher when it's your turn to get left out, but it just makes everybody train that bit sharper and work that bit harder to fight to be on the teamsheet.
So what are the aims for this season?
If we can break 50 points and finish higher up the table, that will be a good season. Especially in the home games, clubs have come to us with more respect. The only game we really let ourselves down in this season was Liverpool. It speaks volumes how far we've come in the League. To finish in the top half of the table last season was brilliant. We have the squad to do it again. When you're a squad like ours, without millions to spend, you have to take small steps. We feel we are doing that.
We wish you well. We've a free £50 bet with winnings for a favourite charity to say thanks for your time.
Great. That can go to the club's official charity the Albion Foundation. It does a great job for kids around our area and all the players are very proud to do their bit to help. Can I back my old club Sheffield Wednesday to finish in the top half of the Championship at 4.03/1?