Club News

Downing: We're entering new territory

And joint-No.2 looking forward to facing former club Chelsea

KEITH Downing is relishing the prospect of entering 'new territory' with Albion - as he prepares to visit his old Stamford Bridge stomping ground on Saturday (ko 3pm).

The Baggies’ joint-assistant head coach, who signed schoolboy forms with Chelsea, must now aide Steve Clarke in finding fresh ways to challenge the players after hitting their initial 40-point target – ordinarily deemed enough to secure Barclays Premier League status.

Albion kick-off their remaining 11 games with a stern test at the home of the current European Champions this weekend.

And Downing has no doubts the squad will maintain the high standards they have set in back-to-back wins over Liverpool and Sunderland.

“We’re going into new territory and it’s the first time we can feel that way,” he said.

“It will be a first for a lot of us as players and coaches, as we’ve generally had to look over our shoulders a lot of the time.

“We’ll have to approach it in a different way in the weeks ahead and it’s been a big two games to win back-to-back.

“We’re always trying to win as many back-to-back games as possible and I think it’s a real plus in the Premier League - if you can get six points in a week it’s a massive achievement.

“We’re looking to keep the run going and achieve attainable targets rather than looking too far ahead.

“It is new territory and we’ll need new ways of trying to approach the games.”

Albion have finished with 47 points in each of the last two seasons, to secure 11th and tenth-place respectively.

And Clarke admitted when he took over the reins from Roy Hodgson in the summer he felt the squad were capable of clocking up a half-century.

“It was interesting speaking to Dean [Kiely], who has got a lot of experience of working with Charlton and when they used to hit 40 points,” he added.

“Their seasons started to drop off continually so it’s important to speak to people like Dean who has a lot of experience of this as a player, and the gaffer’s obviously got the knowledge as well, as has Kevin [Keen].

“We’re getting together and we’re going to try to find a way to challenge and motivate the players without changing the way we play.

“Equally, the players are self-motivated and it shouldn’t need us to try and set new targets for them, as they’re fully aware of where they can get to.

“It’s been a fantastic season and no-one wants to stop.

“There are 11 games to go and there are 33 points available.

“Steve has been very careful in terms of not setting too many specific targets and the general consensus is that 40 points is enough to keep you up.

“For a club of our size it is really important to secure Premier League status first and then you can redraw the lines.

“With 33 points to play for, Europe could be there if you can finish in the top five or six.

“But, equally, a small target might be to try and get to 50 points now and see where that takes us.

“I think we’re always careful to set sizable targets rather than trying to look too far ahead.

“It’s great that the players are thinking about Europe but you have to take small steps to get there first.

“That was a fantastic start but equally you look back at the really disappointing January and you’re looking at one end of the scale to another.

“I think you end up somewhere in the middle, and I’m not doing the boys a disservice as they’ve been fantastic.

“The aspirations are far higher than when we first started and the players have earned that as they have got themselves 40 points.

"It’s important for everybody at the football club to try to kick on and get as much as we can out of the season.”

The Baggies will be looking for their first Barclays Premier League point on Chelsea soil.

And a victory would complete a notable double over the Blues, on a day Downing will enjoy a trip down memory lane.

“I started at Chelsea - my career as an apprentice was there,” he revealed.

“I had three years there from 16.

“I got myself associated schoolboy terms and went through the apprenticeship ranks.

“On a full-time basis I was there from 1981 to 1984.

“I was a Birmingham boy but I got scouted and went for trials, and at the age of 14 I was signed up for Chelsea.

“I used to go there regularly at school holidays and at weekends.

“I wasn’t in the realms of playing first-team football and it was at a time when Chelsea were in the Second Division.

“Steve [Clarke] came in shortly after that and that was the start of the revival.

“I got released and then I went to Notts County and from there to Wolves, which was the start of my career again.

“I got released and had to go again.

“I played for a Combination team called Mile Oak, near Tamworth.

“I don’t know if it still exists, but I went to Notts County for £15,000 and they bought the lights and an away kit!”

He added: “I grew up a lot at Chelsea.

“We have spoken about the modern-day footballer and how much people look after them.

“I used to have to get the train and get across London. No-one picked you up at 14-and-a-half!

“It would be scandalous now.

“I had to get the train and look at the big map and get across to Earls Court.

“Now people would look after you, drive you down there, or at least pick you up.”