David Dunn is finally in a position to begin justifying the £5.5m Steve Bruce paid to take him to Birmingham 15 months ago - as well as demonstrating to Sven Goran Eriksson that he should be given the chance to add to his solitary England cap.
His only international appearance was in a friendly against Portugal at Villa Park three years ago, though he was on standby for the 2002 World Cup, and the former Under-21 captain is pushing for his first start of the season, against Newcastle at St Andrews today. Dunn has been eased gently back by Bruce after his latest hamstring setback - an injury which has dogged him since he moved from Blackburn.
"I can't afford to miss as many games as last season," he said. "It did my head in and I really want to do well and show people what I am capable of. The main thing is to get a run of 15, 20 games under my belt and put in decent performances. If I can do that and push on, then hopefully I can get in the England squad again."
For now, though, his horizons are limited to playing his way back in at St Andrews. He broke down in his second pre-season friendly, against Sheffield Wednesday, but a series of injections in his back into nerves connected to the hamstring appear to have paid off, and his comeback so far has consisted of three substitute appearances.
"We are keeping our fingers crossed that Dunny's injury concerns are behind him," Bruce said. "He has started 18 or 19 games in 15 months and he has been a big player missing for us. If we can get him firing, it will be like us having a new player. We are keeping our fingers crossed on that score. When I bought him, I knew he was someone who could do something different, the extraordinary - score a goal, create a goal, beat a man and do the things other players find very difficult."
Bruce is conscious of what happened last season, when Dunn impressed as a substitute against Aston Villa but broke down when brought back into the starting XI three days later for the FA Cup tie against Sunderland, an experience the player describes as "a real kick in the teeth." Bruce said: "We have learnt the lessons of last season and have been making sure that he is right by gently bringing him back."
When Sir Bobby Robson was sacked, Bruce was favourite to replace him before electing to remain at St Andrews; since then, Graeme Souness has led Newcastle to five wins in a row - a run which before yesterday's programme had left them sixth in the Premiership table, a distinct improvement on their positionwhen the 51-year-old Scot arrived on Tyneside.
The Blues, meanwhile, have taken only five points from five, but Bruce said he has no regrets.
"It is all finished," the boyhood Newcastle fan said. "They've got a new manager in place in Graeme Souness, and I wish him well and he has had a great start. Newcastle is always a big game for myself, being from there and being a supporter - but what has happened has gone. It is history and it has all been put to bed.
"There was no decision to be made at the end of the day. I made it perfectly obvious that I had signed a contract at Birmingham and I honoured it. That was the decision I made."
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