Chris Brunt happy with progress on return from injury
Thirteen months on from rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt admits his return to the game has been all he could have wished for.
It was in a Premier League win over Crystal Palace last February when Brunt suffered a knee injury that would cost him almost eight months and subsequently the European Championships in France.
A gruelling rehabilitation period followed at the age of 31 as Brunt lifted the equivalent of 40 elephants and completed what amounted to 10 triathlons before making his comeback in October.
And the left-sided player has been in fine fettle ever since, helping the Baggies to eighth in the Premier League standings and scoring on his international return in a 4-0 triumph over Azerbaijan in November.
"Touch wood, everything's been good, I probably couldn't have asked for a much better return," said Brunt, who signed a new deal with his club in February.
"I think I've only come off the bench twice for West Brom and I've started pretty much every other game since. That's the best way of looking at it.
"I've hardly missed any training at all, I feel good, I feel quite strong. Maybe that time out gave me the opportunity to work on other things that will hopefully benefit me in the latter stages of my career."
Brunt was still recovering in France during the summer while his team-mates made it out of the group stages in the country's first finals since the 1986 World Cup.
He therefore would have more reason than most to want to qualify for the next major tournament in Russia in two years' time, and Michael O'Neill's team are well placed in second in Group C.
However, Brunt is aware that even finishing runners-up to Germany may not be enough to secure a play-off berth, with just 13 nations from the continent advancing to the World Cup finals.
"We've given ourselves a good chance in the first few games; we have momentum coming off the last campaign," Brunt noted.
"The way things went in the summer it was nice to experience it in some shape or form. Obviously not playing was disappointing so it would be nice to get to a tournament again, but it's a lot more difficult getting to a World Cup than it was to France.
"I know we won our (Euro 2016 qualification) group so we would have been there regardless, but there are a lot fewer European teams qualify for the World Cup.
"With Germany in the group as well, barring something unexpected, you probably would think they'll run out winners, so it's going to be tough, but we've given ourselves a good chance so far."