IT’S IRON BRU!
Brighton star Bruno says his team are made of stronger stuff this year
BRIGHTON skipper Bruno says the in-form Seagulls are following the Leicester blueprint for promotion after bouncing back from last year’s play-off heartbreak in style.
Pipped to a place in the Premier League on goal-difference after a last-day showdown with Middlesbrough, Chris Hughton’s men then crashed out of the playoffs after an incredible spate of injuries left them a man down in their semi-final tie with Sheffield Wednesday.
But, if rivals expected a hangover, they have been sorely disappointed. Last weekend’s 3-0 thumping of QPR capped a 12game unbeaten run as Brighton overhauled Newcastle at the Championship summit.
According to Bruno, it is all down to keeping calm and carrying on, just as the Foxes did after a devastating play-off defeat to Watford in 2013. “Of course it was hard last year,” said Bruno, the 36-year-old full-back who was signed from Valencia in 2012.
“We fought for 46 games and missed out by a couple of goals. Then, in the play-offs, to get four injuries after 60 minutes – that’s mental. It was so, so frustrating. But football is about luck sometimes. All you can do is say ‘OK, it is gone, how can we improve?’
“There are lots of examples of that but, for me, the biggest one is Leicester. They got beat in the play-offs against Watford, that dramatic game with the missed penalty (by current Brighton winger Anthony Knockaert) and the last-minute goal. A terrible situation.
“Everyone expected them to suffer, but they came back the next season and got 102 points. They kept the manager, kept their key players, added quality.
“We have done the same, and the club deserves a lot of credit for that. After such a great season, players get big offers from elsewhere, but they didn’t sell and that was really important.
“If you have to build up a new team, that takes time. Instead, we signed one or two players at a high, high level, like Glenn Murray, and made sure standards improved.”
Bruno spent the Thursday and Friday before Christmas in his native Barcelona on a surprise visit to see his parents. “It was only one hour and 45 minutes from Gatwick, so it took no time at all,” he added.
“They didn’t know until I walked through the door, so it was really nice.”
It isn’t the first trip he’s made to the Continent this season. When Knockaert’s father, Patrick, died in November, Bruno led the entire squad to France to support their team-mate at his funeral.
“The first idea was just to go on my own with the manager,” he explains. “But, when I spoke to Chris, we decided we should give all the other players an option to come.
“No pressure – just if they wanted to be there. But all of them said yes. It was a sad day, but I think it was nice for Anthony and his family.
“It was about helping a friend. Bu,t yes, I think it does show that we’ve got a really nice team togetherness here.
“That is what can make the difference between one team and another because we’ve all got good players.
“It is easy and enjoyable to come to work everyday. When you’ve got that, the performance of everyone improves so much.”
Knockaert’s 82nd-minute equaliser against Birmingham a fortnight ago was his first goal since Patrick’s death, a moment Bruno said was “emotional for all of us”.
And, after Murray nodded a 95th winner, the defender couldn’t help but stray from the ‘one game at a time’ mantra.
“When you get those type of wins - coming back from behind, scoring last-minute goals – you can’t help it,” he says.
“You think ‘OK, yeah, maybe this could be our year’.”
WE CAN-CAN MAKE IT: Bruno tussles with Villa’s Jack Grealish