Brunt gives fixtures verdict

Skipper offers his thoughts on 2013/14 schedule

CHRIS Brunt hopes Albion can pick up where they left off when they open their 2013/14 campaign at home to Southampton on Saturday, August 17.

The Baggies’ nine Hawthorns victories last term was their highest number in a single Barclays Premier League season.

And Brunt believes the visit of the Saints gives Steve Clarke’s men the chance to get off to a winning start on their own turf, as they did with a 3-0 thrashing of Liverpool on the opening day of last season.

“There are never any easy games but to get a home game first is always a bonus,” said the Baggies skipper, as he reacted to yesterday’s fixtures release.

“We had that last season and the win against Liverpool at The Hawthorns kick-started our season.

“Southampton will be coming, after we beat them twice last season, and they’ll know they are in for a difficult game.

“I’m sure the new manager will get them well drilled in his first pre-season with them.

“It will be a difficult fixture for us but we’ll be looking to hit the ground running again.

“We’ve been used to playing one of the big clubs on the opening day for many seasons.

“But it’s important to take points off the teams that are going to be in and around us and anything we get off the top teams is great.

“Last season we did well against the teams in around us and below us – at the end of the day that’s where we’re going to get our points from.

“Hopefully we can also get a few points off the big teams, like we did off Chelsea and Liverpool last season.”

Albion avoid any of last season’s top-five sides in their first five games and Brunt admits expectations will be high from the first whistle after their 2012/13 eighth-place success.

“Expectation levels rise every year,” he added.

“Realistically we did as well as we were going to do last season.

“It’s our job as players to try and kick-on and do a little bit better this season.

“We can build from there.

“The fans will expect it and when you start being a little bit more successful you have to deal with that and I think we’ve got a good group of players who are more than capable of dealing with that.”

The Baggies will face the first of the three newly-promoted teams on Saturday, November 2, when they host Crystal Palace, with a trip to Cardiff and a home date with Hull to follow in December.

And Brunt has tipped the trio to make it another testing top-flight programme.

“They’ve worked hard to get up but the real challenge now is staying up,” he insisted.

“There are three good managers in charge of those teams.

“Steve Bruce has been there and done it before, as has Ian Holloway, so they’ll both know what to expect.

“Malky Mackay has done well in his first couple of jobs and I’m sure, with Cardiff’s owners, they’ll have a few quid to spend as well.

“It’s going to be a tough league this season.”

Brunt is relishing November’s derby with Villa at The Hawthorns, especially after scoring in the 2-2 draw between the two sides in January.

“You always look forward to the derby games,” he added.

“I only lasted half-an-hour at Villa last season and the one at The Hawthorns was a rollercoaster of a game for the fans.

“It was a good game to be involved in, well, in the second half!

“As a player you want to play in those sort of games.

“It’s a good fixture and one you always look out for.

“I think it’s a fixture you need to have.

“It would be a difficult season without any sort of local derby to look forward to.”

And the difficult task of travelling to the home of champions Manchester United – the team he supported as a boy – on September 28 is something Brunt says no longer fazes the Baggies.

“As a Manchester United fan as a kid, I always look forward to going there,” he said.

“But as we’ve progressed in the Premier League you get used to it and no matter where you go it’s a game you want to win.

“In the first couple of seasons in the Premier League you might have been a bit overawed going to the likes of Old Trafford.

“But the way the club has developed, and the players we have, means we can go there and be competitive.

“We’ve shown that over the last few seasons.

“We’re due a result away at one of the big four – the last time we did that was at Arsenal three seasons ago.

“Hopefully we can do that this season.”

Albion’s final game of the campaign pits them against nemesis Stoke City at The Hawthorns on Sunday, May 11.

But the Northern Ireland international is hopeful the Baggies will once again have secured Barclays Premier League survival well before their home date with the Potters.

He urged: “Hopefully we won’t need anything out of the last game against Stoke because we rarely seem to get anything against them!

“The last couple of seasons we’ve been fortunate enough not to be involved in the relegation battle at the end of the season.

“I’m sure we’re more than capable of making that happen again this season.

“For us this season it is important to be more competitive after January because, although overall our season was good, it could have been a lot better had we been able to produce a few results in the games after

“And, in a lot of those games, we should have got results.

“That disappointed the head coach, his staff and a lot of the players, as well as the fans, who expected more after Christmas.

“I’m sure we will be prepared for that this season.”