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Chris Brunt flying after his Middlesbrough downer

Sport | Published:

The emergence of Stewart Downing left Chris Brunt's career in the balance.

The emergence of Stewart Downing left Chris Brunt's career in the balance.

But six-and-a-half years after he was shown the door by Middlesbrough, it is Brunt who will take on his old friend tomorrow as one of the Premier League's most talked-about players.

While Villa winger Downing won the race for a professional contract on Teesside, Brunt has taken a measured route to top-flight stardom and will head into derby action in the form of his life.

An impressive start to his second Premier League season has seen Brunt hailed as Albion's creative fulcrum and linked with moves to some of England's biggest clubs.

And the Northern Ireland international believes events in the spring of 2004, when he was rejected by Boro and Downing secured a contract, increased his hunger to be a long-term success, although he admitted he could not have envisaged his return to the top.

"Probably not," he conceded. "But you have to take everything as it comes.

"I was fortunate to get to Sheffield Wednesday. They are such a big club and it helped me get good experience of playing in front of big crowds.

"Even in League One we were getting 18,000 to 20,000 people every week at Hillsborough.

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"I don't think I'd change my career for anything.

"I've played a lot of games in League One and the Championship and I've had to work through each league to get to the Premier League.

"I think it probably makes you want to stay in the Premier League even more because I've sampled the lower leagues as well.

"I feel I've had to work hard for it and I've enjoyed every minute of it."

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Brunt will take on Downing in tomorrow's Villa Park derby with no hard feelings towards the England international. In fact, Brunt is philosophical about his time in Boro's academy and admits that, as a hopeful young left winger, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I'm sure Stewart probably was one of the reasons why I was released by Boro," admitted Brunt.

"Adam Johnson was coming through as well so it was probably a bad time to go to Boro.

"I knew Stewart in the youth teams. He was a year older than me and in the same position.

"He was the local lad and he was put in the first-team quite early, so it was always going to be difficult for me to get a game with him playing.

"I actually saw him a few weeks ago for the first time since we played Middlesbrough.

"He's a good lad and I always got on with him.

"He's done very well since he went to Villa. He's got a lot of experience and I'm sure he'll help them through this tricky period.

"He also has international experience as well and you don't get that without being a good player, so I'm sure he'll step up to the plate."

For Brunt, however, the blow of his release from the Riverside Stadium is now a fading memory after four impressive seasons at The Hawthorns.

But, while opponents and pundits alike have been quick to praise his contribution to the Baggies' flying start to the season, Brunt still does not believe he can be considered a fully-fledged Premier League player.

"If I can play my part to keep West Brom in the Premier League this season maybe I can consider myself an established Premier League player," said the 25-year-old.

"I'm just enjoying playing in the Premier League.

"Last time we were here I didn't play too regularly in the first half of the season.

"It was only towards the back end of the season when I started to play, and I felt I was playing some of my better football.

"This season, starting every game has benefitted me. I think I've been playing some of my better football because of a run in the team."

Brunt's displays and regular 'assists' have helped Albion to their best ever Premier League start and they will head to Villa tomorrow with a five-point advantage over their neighbours and hosts.

"Obviously they have had a bit of a rough time but they have got a new, experienced manager in and I'm sure he will want to turn things around quite quickly," he said.

"But we are going there with some confidence and it's a game we're looking forward to.

"A lot of people will probably say it's a good time to play Villa but in a local derby you never know. It can benefit us them being under pressure but there could be a backlash as well.

We're under no illusions that it's going to be a difficult game."

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