IT’S IRON BRU!

Brighton star Bruno says his team are made of stronger stuff this year

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

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.”

Op­tion

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’.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

WE CAN-CAN MAKE IT: Bruno tus­sles with Villa’s Jack Gre­al­ish

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