Head coach insists players gave their all against Malmo
STEVE Clarke is in no doubt his players are busting a gut to impress him – after praising their work ethic in tonight’s Scandinavia tour opener.
Clarke’s first official game as Albion head coach ended in a harsh 1-0 defeat against a Malmo side who are already 15 matches into their Allsvenskan campaign.
He was delighted with the effort the players showed at Swedbank Stadion in their bid to win a place in his starting XI for the Barclays Premier League opener against his former club Liverpool on August 18.
“I was really pleased with everybody’s application,” said Clarke, whose side went down to Alex Nilsson's eighth-minute strike.
“You couldn’t question it.
“The players are all being given a chance and they’re all keen.
“You could see their attitude tonight. They’re all working as hard as they can to impress me – and that’s what they should be doing.
“That’s what they’re here for.
“They get their chances in these games and they have to show what they can do.
“It’s also great that some of the young boys have been able to come out with us to show what they can do.”
Clarke was quick to emphasise that tonight’s friendly was all about improving fitness levels – not the result.
“We were playing against a team that is in the middle of their season so they were much sharper from the start,” he reflected.
“But as the game went on, I thought we competed well physically and a big plus was the three outfield boys who played 90 minutes because, if I’m being honest, I don’t think any of the players were ready to do
“So I must pay a big compliment to Gabi (Tamas), James (Hurst) and Billy (Jones).
“We had to ask them to do a little bit more than maybe we should’ve done.”
Clarke added: “The objective of the trip here is to work on our fitness and work on a few things in the games.
“I think at the start we showed we’re still a little big sluggish.
“Malmo started sharply and got their goal at that time, which also puts you on the back foot a little bit.
“But towards the end of the first half, we had better control of the game and spent more time in their half of the pitch.
“The second half was much better and I thought we passed the ball well at times.
“Of course, if it was a game we had to try to win, we wouldn’t have made changes when we had the control we had at the start of the second half.
“The changes were made to make sure no-one suffered an injury because the most important game is the one that starts the season in August.”
Clarke granted Yassine El Ghanassy, who joined on a season-long loan from AA Gent last week, his debut as a 70th-minute substitute.
The Belgium international showed glimpses of his renowned pace and trickery on the ball but the head coach insists the club’s latest recruit needs time to settle in properly.
“It was just a little cameo from Yassine tonight,” added Clarke.
“He did a couple of good things and a couple that weren’t so good.
“As I’ve said before, he’s one for the future who we need to nurture and try to develop.
“I think that, physically, he’s probably more than a little bit behind the rest of the players.
“And we shouldn’t be putting him under any pressure.
“We should be giving him time to develop and get used to the rigours of the Premier League, because it’s completely different to what he’s been used to in Belgium.”