Belfast Telegraph

Chris Brunt targets a league and cup double over Villa

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland star Chris Brunt is relishing a double header this week with Midlands rivals Aston Villa which could help steer West Brom to Premier League safety and see them reach a Wembley semi-final in the FA Cup.

Brunt may have lost the captaincy to new signing Darren Fletcher since the arrival of manager Tony Pulis in January but that hasn't stopped him being a key performer for the Baggies since the turn of the year.

Albion, in serious relegation trouble earlier in the campaign, have moved up to 13th in the table after enjoying an unbeaten run in February and are hoping for more of the same in March, starting tonight in a league derby at Villa Park before they return to the stadium on Saturday for an FA Cup quarter-final.

"We will be looking to go to Villa Park and see if we can extend the unbeaten run we have been on," said Brunt, ahead of the games with Tim Sherwood's struggling side who are second bottom.

"Villa are having a tough time at the moment and they haven't scored many goals. That run has to come to an end some time. It's up to us to go there and make sure it's not against us.

"It's going to be an exciting week for people in the Midlands."

While Brunt is renowned for using his wand of a left foot in an attacking sense, he has also delivered in defence when asked to occupy a full back role by Pulis. And with countryman Gareth McAuley in consistent form beside him, WBA have been difficult to break down lately, keeping clean sheets in their last four games.

"It was a big thing for the gaffer when he first came in," said Brunt.

"He talked about keeping clean sheets between now and the end of the season. No matter how badly or how well you play if you are not conceding goals you have always got a chance of winning.

"Obviously we'd all like to bomb forward and play total football but the reality of the situation we are in is that we are not going to be able to do that."

WBA's Brunt, McAuley and Chris Baird are not the only Northern Ireland players with a big week ahead, which could end with several of them Wembley bound for the last four of the FA Cup.

Jonny Evans and Paddy McNair will hope to be involved for Manchester United in their league game at Newcastle tomorrow ahead of a mouthwatering Cup clash with Arsenal on Monday night.

On Sunday, Jonny's younger brother Corry should feature for Blackburn at Anfield against Liverpool, managed of course by Ulsterman Brendan Rodgers, while Rory McArdle will aim to continue Bradford's FA Cup heroics against Reading on Saturday.

Oliver Norwood has become a key figure for Michael O'Neill in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, but he has been out of favour at Reading recently.

"It's very frustrating," said Norwood. "When I play I've got to make sure I stay in the team."

Meanwhile, on loan striker Kyle Lafferty scored his first goal for Turkish Super Lig outfit Caykur Rizespor in their 3-0 win over Eskisehispor at the weekend.

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