STEVE Clarke insisted Gareth McAuley typified the warrior-like spirit his team showed after their Villa Park plans were severely disrupted by injuries in today’s 1-1 draw.
The centre-half was forced to play on with a knock during the final ten minutes of the derby clash after all the Baggies’ substitutions had been made.
Albion had already lost Chris Brunt (hamstring) and Billy Jones (knee) in the final five minutes of the first half.
But Clarke was delighted with the way their replacements Graham Dorrans and Gabriel Tamas took up the baton.
“I think everyone at Albion knows the warriors we’ve got in the team,” said the Baggies boss.
“The defenders put their bodies on the line every week.
“Gareth McAuley finished the game on one leg but you know it takes more than that to get him off the pitch.
“We were unfortunate to lose two players from the starting XI before half-time.
“But they both came quite close to half-time so we re-organised at half-time and I thought we started the second half really well.
“Once we were in front I thought we had decent control of the game.
“But the second goal didn’t come and ultimately we got punished for that.
“I think as a team we defend very well.
“Everyone works very hard for the team and everyone gets the blocks in.
“The two boys that came in, Tamas and Dorrans, did ever so well to pick up the pace of the game.
“Tamas came in and one of his first contributions was to duck round at the back post and make a fantastic challenge on Benteke in the six-yard box.
“We’ll assess Brunt and Jones’ injuries over the next couple of days and towards the weekend we should have a better idea in terms of recovery.”
Albion’s injury list continues to grow with key defensive duo Steven Reid (hamstring) and Liam Ridgewell (calf) already ruled out before the game.
But Ridgewell’s absence paved the way for deadline-day signing Goran Popov to make his long-awaited Baggies debut.
And Clarke was impressed by the on-loan Dynamo Kiev left-back’s introduction to English football.
“I thought Goran Popov came in on his debut to play in a game like that and showed the qualities he’s got,” he added.
“We had no doubts he would be able to handle the game.
“He’s an experienced player, has played in a lot of big matches, and he showed that today.
“He’s got a terrific left foot, knows the game, knows how to defend, and is a strong boy.
“He gives us another good option in the squad.”