Boss also provides latest on Reid and Popov's fitness hopes
STEVE Clarke has given his full backing to Billy Jones as right-back rival Steven Reid faces a race against time to be fit for Saturday’s Hawthorns date with Reading (ko 3pm).
The 25-year-old defender has deputised for Reid since he sustained a hamstring injury during Albion’s 2-0 Barclays Premier League victory over Everton 18 days ago.
Jones had to contend with Fulham's in-form winger Alex Kacaniklic at Craven Cottage and it was his foul on the Swede that led to the hosts going 2-0 up from the spot on the stroke of half-time.
But Clarke had plenty of comforting words for the ex-Preston man.
“On this occasion, you’ve got to give credit to Billy's opponent," said the head coach.
“Maybe we didn’t get enough protection in front of him.
"And maybe we allowed Fulham the ball too easily and to pick out the winger too often.
“There are many different factors that go into a team performance and I certainly wouldn’t point any fingers at Billy.
“Before the penalty, you wouldn’t have said Billy was having a bad game. I don’t think anybody would.
"He gave away a penalty and that was unfortunate.
“But he'd just nearly scored at other end. He was tired when he got back there.
“There was one challenge earlier where Kacaniklic tried to take him on and Billy shepherded the ball out of play, as he would normally do.
“For the penalty, he was a little bit tired and made the wrong decision to hang his leg out.
"But I’ve got absolutely no worries about Billy.”
Clarke revealed Reid is continuing his rehab work on his hamstring problem but described new boy Goran Popov’s chances of playing as ‘very doubtful’.
“Steven's been outside working with the medical staff towards being fit as soon as possible," he added.
“He's had a hamstring injury and he's recovered to a point where it's almost right, but you don't want to take the next step too quickly.
“We will monitor it as the week goes on but we are still hopeful for the weekend.
“As for Goran, he had to go back to Kiev after the Fulham game and we will assess him when he's back, but he is very doubtful for the weekend.”