05:00 16th September 2013
Boss focused on Sunderland clash with tough run ahead
STEVE Clarke says you only need to look at the senior players not involved in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Fulham to see the strength in depth he believes will see Albion succeed this season.
The Baggies boss was without injured quintet Ben Foster, Shane Long, Zoltan Gera, Matej Vydra and Steven Reid at Craven Cottage.
Stephane Sessegnon has yet to receive a work permit, while Graham Dorrans, after missing Scotland's recent World Cup Qualifiers due to an ankle injury, and Diego Lugano, after travelling to South America for international duty with Uruguay, were not used.
"We're not in a better place points-wise now," said Clarke, whose side are still awaiting their first league game of the campaign.
"We're five points worse off than this point last year but the strength of the squad will show itself over the course of the season.
"We faded last year. But this year I expect the squad to be stronger.
"I left out, or was without, eight senior players on Saturday.
"We have good strength in depth this year.
"I expect we will reap the benefits of that later this season."
And the Albion chief was delighted the subs he brought on against the Cottagers helped earn his team a precious point.
"I had James Morrison on the bench - I put him on to give us more creativity," he added.
"I put on Scott Sinclair to give us some pace.
"I had Saido, who deserved his place in the squad and deserved a chance to play."
The Baggies entertain Sunderland on Saturday (ko 3pm) as the only two sides yet to record a Barclays Premier League win this term meet.
But Clarke is refusing to press the panic button as he prepares for the bottom-two clash.
"We are points down on this time last season and people talk about struggles," he said.
"We're four games into the season.
"Martin [Jol] made a comment saying Saturday was a 'must win game'.
"I said to my players that it wasn't a must win game. It can't be.
"There are still 105 points to play for. Now there are 102 points to play for.
"Come on - people need a sense of realism.
"It's still early days."
Following their encounter with the Black Cats, Albion face the tough prospect of taking on four of the current top seven - Manchester United, Arsenal, Stoke and Liverpool.
But Clarke insists it is a challenge his men should relish.
He said: "So we should be worried about that? Or should we relish it?
"I look at the players I've got and I relish those fixtures.
"I don't understand anyone who would say 'Oh my God we've got Man United away!' It's a great game for the players.
"We should look forward to such games.
"The pressure is on them to pick up points.
"But before then we've got Sunderland this week and we need a win.
"We need that win and that's the game I'm thinking about. I don't worry about fixtures in the future."