Club News

Brunt relishing United test

Downing echoes skipper's thoughts as he praises players' response to 'blip'

CHRIS Brunt admits Albion need to be wary of Manchester United’s firepower in tomorrow’s clash (ko 3pm) – but hopes his team-mates can take advantage of the Red Devils' defensive concerns.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s table toppers have conceded 28 goals at the halfway point of the campaign – more than they have at the same stage in any of the last ten Barclays Premier League seasons.

But, although United have shipped more than two goals in a top-flight game nine times this term, they have gone on to win all but one of them.

“It is going to be a difficult one,” said Brunt.

“They’re going well and scoring a lot of goals and it’s up to us to go there and defend well.

“But they have conceded a lot of goals as well so it should be a good game.

“Manchester United are the best team in the league and have been for the last 15 or 20 years, so if you want to improve and get better yourselves you’ve got to try to match these teams.”

Baggies joint-assistant head coach Keith Downing has echoed his skipper’s thoughts.

“You obviously look at their strengths and weaknesses and Sir Alex has mentioned that there is a cause for concern with the goals they have conceded,” he added.

“But they have top-quality players coming back with Vidic, Smalling and Jones, and they have a lot of individual quality there.

“I’m sure there are things they will be working on but there is an opportunity for us to go there and play with freedom to our game after our two wins and hopefully we can give them a few problems.”

Downing has also praised the players for responding strongly to three successive defeats by going unbeaten in the next trio of fixtures.

And, although he admits the football has not been as exhilarating as it was in the early part of the season, he is delighted with the character they have displayed which means they head to Old Trafford buoyed by back-to-back wins over Norwich and QPR.

“At the start of the season we played really well, ” he said.

We played some really attractive football and opened teams up.

“As the season has gone on our reputation has built and there has been a bit more respect for us and we’ve had more difficulty, particularly at home, breaking teams down.

“I think it shows another side to our team that we have the character and personality in our side to break teams down.

“Over Christmas the games dip in terms of quality.

"It is a big ask for players to keep turning out performances and it is about grit and determination, which we have shown in the last couple of games.

“They haven’t been classics but the results have been really important to us after three straight defeats.

“It’s a sign of a really resilient group of players.

“I don’t think we’ve played to the standards we showed earlier in the season but there are a lot of reasons for that.

“Games are coming thick and fast and pitches are getting heavier."

And Steve Clarke's joint-No.2 is delighted with the sixth-placed Baggies' 33-point haul at the halfway stage of the season.

“I think we have surprised a few people but I don’t think we’ve surprised ourselves," he said.

“It’s been a work in progress in the last two or three years, the club has worked exceptionally hard behind the scenes and the players have been collected and a strength in the squad has built up.

“But 33 points at the halfway stage is a fantastic return for a club like us and we have to reset the goals.

“We’re still looking at 40 points and people might raise eyebrows at that, but our prime objective is to stay up for another season, then we can reassess when we get the 40 points.

“We’re not jumping ahead of ourselves.

"We’ve got our feet on the ground and we're focusing on each game."