Belfast Telegraph

Chris Brunt proves a point for West Brom and Northern Ireland

By Steven Beacom

Chris Brunt trudged off the pitch at Selhurst Park. The West Brom star had just been given the runaround by Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha. In the closing minutes of the Premier League fixture, Brunt's day was summed up when he fouled Zaha to concede a converted penalty, giving the Eagles a 2-0 victory.

That was on October 3. Not for the first time, Brunt was questioned by WBA fans, many of them feeling he couldn't cut it at left-back.

A day later, Brunt joined up with the Northern Ireland squad for the Euro 2016 double-header at home to Greece and away to Finland.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill knew that Brunt had endured a tough time at Palace, but he wasn't about to drop the 30-year-old.

Quite right too. Brunt has suffered criticism in his international career, some justified, but in the Euro qualifiers he had been solid at left-back, not his strongest position.

Against the Greeks, O'Neill's faith in Brunt was rewarded with another composed display in the 3-1 victory which secured Northern Ireland's place in France.

A few days later, Brunt was one of the more impressive performers in the 1-1 draw in Finland which meant O'Neill's men finished the successful campaign top of the Group F table.

For Northern Ireland, Brunt, who won his first cap in 2004, has fought hard to become a regular starter. Nobody has any arguments about that now.

And for the Baggies, after his Zaha nightmare, he has battled back superbly. In Albion's last two games, Brunt, alongside compatriots Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans in defence, has helped them to two clean sheets, the latest coming in Saturday's 1-0 win at Norwich. He has also moved forward to provide an attacking threat.

Brunt is well known for his sweet left foot. This month he has shown character too.

227 days to go!

Belfast Telegraph