INTRODUCING THE BAGGIES:
THE ‘Boing Boing’ Baggies could be bouncing around Europe next season . . . having made nonsense of that tag over the past two seasons.
After finishing in their highest top-flight position in 2011-12 since the days of Derek Statham, John Wile and Cyrille Regis some 30 years ago, West Bromwich Albion have been one of the surprise packages of
the current Premier League campaign.
So much so, that Steve Clarke’s side have a realistic chance of qualifying for the Europa League as they aim to round off a season which saw them hit the dizzy heights of a Champions League spot when things
were going especially well for them.
The fact that West Brom are so promisingly placed going into the final quarter of the season is particularly satisfying for a club that gained its ‘Boing Boing’ tag after so many ups and downs between the
Championship and Premier League.
Albion fans might well have been pessimistic about their prospects for this campaign when Roy Hodgson, the vastly experienced manager who had guided them to tenth spot last season, left the Hawthorns to
answer the call of duty from his country.
But Clarke, so long a man who had lived in the shadow of some top managers, has proved to be a shrewd selection as Hodgson’s replacement and has clearly built upon the excellent work of his predecessor to
set them up for an even better finish.
The Scot returned to one of his former clubs, Chelsea, to acquire Romelu Lukaku on a season-long loan and the Belgian international’s 13 goals so far have certainly been a key factor in the success which the
Baggies have enjoyed in his first season in charge.
Albion’s excellent home form provided the springboard for their climb up the table as they won six of their first seven matches at the Hawthorns before Dean Whitehead’s late winner extended our outstanding
record at the highest ground in England.
They began by completing a Merseyside double, opening the season with a 3-0 win over Liverpool and then recording a 2-0 victory over Everton, while the success in front of their own fans also featured a 2-1
triumph over Chelsea in mid-November.
Although they have found points harder to come by since the turn of the year, the Baggies have stayed in touch with the battle for a Europa League spot and showed that they are serious challengers by
completing a double over Liverpool.
Despite recent defeats to Tottenham and Chelsea, their 2-1 win over Capital One Cup winners Swansea City last weekend was their third victory in four matches to leave them in eighth place just four points
behind Arsenal in fifth position.
While Arsene Wenger’s side are still to visit the Hawthorns, West Brom have a run-in which fills them optimism about European qualification.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION FACT-FILE:
Full name: West Bromwich Albion Football Club
Stadium: The Hawthorns
Chairman: Jeremy Peace
Manager: Steve Clarke
2011/12: Premier League (10th), FA Cup (Fourth Round), League Cup (Third Round).
Record transfer fee paid: £4.7m for Borja Valero to RCD Mallorca, August 2008
Record transfer fee received: £8.5m for Curtis Davies from Aston Villa, July 2008
INTRODUCING THE GAFFER:
THIS MAY well be Steve Clarke’s first season in the managerial hotseat . . . but he possessed a wealth of experience as a number two when he made the step-up after being handed the responsibility of succeeding Roy Hodgson at the Hawthorns last summer.
The Scot had learned from some of the best in the business during his spells as assistant manager at Newcastle United, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool where the likes of Ruud Gullit, Sir Bobby Robson, Jose
Mourinho and Kenny Dalglish were in charge of those clubs.
Having made over 600 appearances as a solid defender for St. Mirren and Chelsea in his playing days, Clarke retired in 1998 having won an FA Cup in 1997, League Cup in 1998, and, in his final Chelsea
appearance, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup to crown his career.
Clarke returned to his beloved Stamford Bridge as youth team coach after serving as number two to Gullit and then Robson at St James’ Park, but he was soon promoted to assistant manager upon the arrival
of Jose Mourinho in 2004 and helped guide the Blues to two Barclays Premier League titles, an FA Cup win and two League Cup triumphs in just three seasons.
When Mourinho departed Chelsea in 2007, Clarke’s services were retained by Avram Grant, but he moved across London a year later to work with former Blues team-mate Gianfranco Zola at West Ham where
they achieved an impressive ninth-place finish in their first season.
In January 2011, Clarke was on the move again to become first team coach at Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish, but it was short-lived, despite the fact that he helped the club to win the Carling Cup by seeing off
Cardiff City on penalties in the following campaign.
However, the change at the top at Anfield led to his big break in management when West Brom offered him the chance to succeed Hodgson at the Hawthorns shortly after new Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers
had decided he was not a part of his new regime.
It gave Clarke immense satisfaction therefore that a dream start as Baggies boss saw his new club record an opening day victory over Liverpool, the first of many impressive displays in the first half of the season which made them one of the surprise packages of the current Barclays Premier League season and raised the possibility of them qualifying for Europe.
TONY PULIS will make a late decision on several of his first-team stars . . . including winger Matthew Etherington.
The City boss has been without the influential winger for the past few weeks due to a niggling back injury, however, he could come back into the side against the Baggies.
Cameron Jerome is also a doubt for the game having picked up a knock to the knee in last weekend's 2-1 reverse at St. James' Park.
Meanwhile, Robert Huth is a certain non-starter as he serves the final game of a three match suspension for violent conduct.
Republic of Ireland international Marc Wilson is likely to deputise alongside Ryan Shawcross in his absence.
The visitors are unlikely to make any changes to their starting eleven, having recorded a 2-1 victory against League Cup holders Swansea City last time out.
Shane Long could come back into boss Steve Clarke's thoughts, having appeared to have shrugged off a foot injury.
Steven Reid is also a doubt with a groin strain, although Youssouf Mulumbu should be fit to start despite a recent bout of illness.
Ryan Shotton: “My message to the fans is enjoy the game and get behind the lads, but please don’t just assume the win.
“We will do our best, and yes we have a good record against them, but sometimes that is just the way it falls.
“There always seems to be a good team to play against and then there is a bad team to play against – it’s just football, and these things happen.
“It’s a local derby for us and we will be up for the game and looking forward to it, and the atmosphere will be buzzing.”
Claudio Yacob: “Every match is a fight and there is no easy game. It is very passionate and I really enjoy playing in the Premier League.
“I know I have to work really hard to keep on performing.
“Stoke are a difficult team to play against. “The players are tall and big and we have to be clever to beat them.
“There are a couple of teams in Argentina that play like Stoke, and I’m ready for the battle."
THIS WEEKEND’S FIXTURES:
Everton v Manchester City
Aston Villa v Queens Park Rangers
Southampton v Liverpool
Stoke City v West Brom
Swansea City v Arsenal
Manchester United v Reading
Sunderland v Norwich City
Tottenham Hotspur v Fulham
Chelsea v West Ham United
Wigan Athletic v Newcastle United
League: 57 Stoke City wins; 39 West Bromwich Albion wins; 31 draws
FA Cup: 0 Stoke City wins; 3 West Bromwich Albion wins; 2 draws
TOTAL: 57 Stoke City wins; 42 West Bromwich Albion wins; 33 draws
LAST FIVE ENCOUNTERS:
West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Stoke City (Premier League) – 01/12/2012
Stoke City 1-2 West Bromwich Albion (Premier League) – 21/01/2012
West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Stoke City (Premier League) – 28/08/2011
Stoke City 1-1 West Bromwich Albion (Premier League) – 28/02/2011
West Bromwich Albion 0-3 Stoke City (Premier League) – 20/11/2010
Stoke City win 6/4
West Brom win 21/10
The odds are correct at the time of writing, and are from bet365.com. These may differ dependant upon the latest betting trends.
MIKE DEAN will take charge of his 31st game of the season at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Wirral-born official has taken charge of two games involving either the Potters or Baggies this campaign, with neither of the sides coming out victorious in any of those clashes.
He has booked 105 players this term, and dismissed a further four.