Midfielder puts 'best' Albion season down to enjoyment of playing in preferred role
JAMES Morrison is eager to build on his best season as an Albion player by cementing a central-midfield berth under new head coach Steve Clarke.
The Scotland international was used in a variety of roles during his previous four years at the club – especially out wide.
But he was given a run in the engine room in 2011/12 – his favourite position – and grabbed his chance with both hands.
“On paper, I would say last season was my best here,” said ‘Mozza’, speaking at Albion’s Swedish pre-season training base.
“I got five goals from midfield and I would like to think my performances were of a high level.
“Most of all, I really enjoyed it.
“Hopefully, I can keep enjoying my football because when you enjoy something, you do well at it.”
Morrison is grateful that former boss Roy Hodgson helped him to improve his game and gave him the chance to prove he is worthy of a central-midfield role.
“I played in central midfield the season before Roy came in under Roberto Di Matteo, but it was in a three,” added the club’s current longest-serving player.
“You learn from that for when you go into a two, which is different.
“Roy also taught me the defensive side of things and I thank him for that.
“But I started playing in central midfield when I was young.
“It was only when I broke into the first team at Middlesbrough that I started playing out wide because, as a young player, you’ve got to play in different positions to get a game.
“It’s never easy to go straight into a key area of the field at a younger age.
“But I was quite glad that I got a chance to play in the middle last season because I feel that’s my position.”
Morrison & Co are now adapting to life under new head coach Clarke after reporting back from their summer break.
“I had a good seven weeks off to put my feet up and relax and I feel better for it,” he said.
“It was nice to have a rest and things have been good since we returned for pre-season.
“Training has been at a high tempo and good fun.
“It’s been short and sharp, which is different to what we had under Roy, but all the lads have bought into it and have trained really hard.
“It has been a long two weeks since we reported back with double sessions every day.
“But the lads have taken to what the new gaffer’s doing and have really enjoyed it.”
Albion improved on their highest-ever Barclays Premier League finish of 11th in 2010/11 by coming tenth last term.
Naturally, there has been plenty of talk within the camp of trying to better that in 2012/13.
But Morrison insists it is vital that the players do not take their eye off their first objective – survival.
“During my first Premier League season here, when we got relegated, we were dominating teams and losing,” said the Darlington-born ace.
“Since then, we’ve believed that, with a few tweaks here and there, we should be in the Premier League, which is what Robbie and Roy did – and that has helped us.
“After the last two seasons, we’re feeling we’re a Premier League team – but we have to progress.
“We can’t just relax on our 11th and tenth finishes.
“Expectations will be high, but this season will be even harder because everyone seems to be buying players to stay in the league.
“As players, we know it will be hard.
“We need the fans to realise this as well because if they expect too much, it could harm us.
“Safety comes first – especially with the competition in the league.
“But we have a group of players who know what the score is and what it takes to do well in the Premier League, so everyone is working hard for that.”