KEVIN Keen admits Albion have missed Claudio Yacob during his seven-game absence – but insists the Baggies’ recent injury problems have allowed other players to flourish.
Yacob has been sidelined for longer than expected due to a set-back with a hamstring problem.
But the Argentina international is hopeful of returning to first-team action in Saturday’s derby clash with Villa (ko 5.30pm).
“He’s been a really key player and, let’s be honest, we’ve missed him,” said Keen.
“He’s got a really big role in the team and earlier in the season we saw how important it was.
“He had a little bit of a setback so that slowed down his recovery.
"We’ve taken it slowly this time and we’re hopeful that he’s close, if not for this week, for the week after.”
Albion were missing six key players - Yacob, Zoltan Gera, Steven Reid, Shane Long, Peter Odemwingie and Marc-Antoine Fortune - due to injury for Saturday’s trip to Reading.
But Keen has been impressed by the way the likes of George Thorne, Billy Jones and Romelu Lukaku have stepped up to the plate.
“We have had to change the team around because of the number of games and maybe that’s disrupted the rhythm a bit," he added.
“But Saturday was some of the best football we’ve played and apart from what happened at the end, we would have come away thinking it was a really good performance.
“Maybe at the end of the game on Saturday there were a few people who have played a lot of games or were coming back from injury.
“But I don’t see it as a big thing - and I’d like to look at it as a positive.
“Because of the injuries, George Thorne has come back from Peterborough and been fantastic.
“His performance at Manchester United was super, his performance at Reading was really good and that’s one of the positives out of having the injuries.
“Billy Jones has played game after game, which he’s not had before, and been one of our best performers.
“Obviously we want the injured players back but I’d rather look at the positives.
“Romelu’s performance level has also gone up.”
Academy product Adil Nabi
also made a senior matchday squad for the first time against the Royals.
He was an unused substitute at the Madejski Stadium but Keen revealed he or fellow youngster Romaine Sawyers could be among the substitutes against QPR tonight.
“Adil’s a top finisher,” said Clarke’s joint-No.2.
“I’ve seen him play several reserve games and in training he’s a got a really good eye for goal.
“He’s a clever footballer and if he’d come off the bench on Saturday and had an opportunity I think he’d have been ready.
“Maybe his opportunity will come further down the line.
“We had him and Romaine Sawyers in the squad and they will be in the squad again.
“I think one of them will be on the bench again.”