Club News

Clarke facing selection dilemma

Boss wary of impressive Swans on another tough away day

STEVE Clarke admits the prospect of a second long-distance away trip in four days could persuade him to change the team that convincingly won 4-2 at Sunderland on Saturday to go third in the table.

Albion head to South Wales tonight (ko 7.45pm) to take on Michael Laudrup’s ninth-placed Swansea, who have only lost to Everton on home soil this term.

It is the second of three games in eight days for the Baggies, with Stoke to come to The Hawthorns on Saturday (ko 3pm).

And Clarke has only named an unchanged Barclays Premier League starting XI once this season in the games against Tottenham and the Toffees.

“I’ve always made changes in every game,” he said.

“I’ve only picked the same starting XI in the league once.

“There is always room for a change in my team.

“There is a tendency to think you should freshen it.

“There is also a school of thought that says ‘it was a hell of an away performance, you scored four goals, do you go with the same again?’

“Those are the decisions I’ll have to make between now and an hour-and-a-half before kick-off."

Clarke has been impressed by how quickly Laudrup has got to grips with his first taste of Barclays Premier League management.

And is wary of the talented players the former Denmark international has at his disposal.

He added: “Michael has done fantastic this year, coming in from a different country, picking up the feel of the Premier League straight away.

“He has a good squad of players, he has improved it as well, he has brought in some really good players, and I like the way Swansea play football.

“It will be difficult.

“We lost 3-0 there last year, a comprehensive defeat, so hopefully the players will remember that, go there and try to put that right.

“It is as tough as they come this game.

“On the back of a long trip to the North East at the weekend, it's another long trip, and travel can tire you out.

“We try to give the players as much rest as we can between the two games but we go there to play a team in a really good moment.

“They are really strong at home and we will have to be at our best to get anything out of the game.”

Victory at the Liberty Stadium would see Albion secure five successive top-flight wins for the first time since Ron Atkinson’s 1978/79 team.

And, although Clarke is refusing to get carried away by the Baggies’ lofty league position, he is still looking for his side to keep improving.

“If we don’t believe that, we might as well give up,” he insisted.

“I want to be better, I want to be higher in the league, I want to do as well as I can and the players are the same.

“They want to be as successful as they can be. And if we drive each other on, then that’s great.

“If you ask around, 95 per cent of people in football would say West Brom wouldn’t be in the top three come the end of the season. But let’s see.

“This is where you get tested. This is a test of the squad and the character of the group.

“So far every time they've been tested, asked the question, they have passed the test, and there have been some pivotal moments.

“We have to keep facing those challenges and we have to keep our season on the right track.

“We are in a good place, are confident and want the games to come.

“We are not afraid of any games at any moment and we face the challenge head on.”