Defender reveals how he's coping with fixture glut ahead of Reds test
EVERGREEN Gareth McAuley is powering through his Barclays Premier League endurance test – thanks to his Championship experience!
The centre-half, who turned 33 two months ago, has only missed one league match all season.
And he followed up his 15th successive top flight appearance against Tottenham seven days ago with a gruelling midweek trip to Malta with Northern Ireland, where he played the full 90 minutes.
Through Albion’s recent injury problems, McAuley has been a constant and asking boss Steve Clarke for a rest at Liverpool tomorrow (ko 8pm) is the furthest thing from his mind.
McAuley reckons his many years playing beneath the Premier League – where 46-game league seasons are the norm, not 38 – have put him in good stead for his current physical test.
“We don’t have a massive squad,” said the former Lincoln, Leicester and Ipswich man.
“That’s why the really top clubs have big squads. Come this time of year, they need to rotate.
“But, for me, there are less games in the Premier League compared to the Championship.
“Maybe I’m used to it and my body’s adapted.”
Albion had not even scored a Premier League goal against Liverpool in nine attempts when they beat the Reds 2-1 at home thanks to a penalty-spot double from McAuley’s international team-mate Chris Brunt almost two years ago.
Since then, the Baggies have enjoyed a productive run against the Merseyside giants, with McAuley helping them record two wins in three subsequent league games.
Peter Odemwingie’s second-half winner secured Albion’s first victory at Anfield in 45 years last April before August’s memorable opening-day 3-0 triumph at The Hawthorns.
McAuley says it will be tough to continue that record against Brendan Rodgers’ men – especially as they have scored 12 goals without conceding in racking up three successive home wins.
But the Reds are only two points ahead of Albion – and the 6ft 5in defender says he and his team-mates are capable of pulling off another shock.
“It’s been a while since we won a game and we’re trying to stay as positive as we can,” reflected McAuley.
“But we need to get a result on the board as quickly as possible.
“It’ll be tough at Liverpool – but it’s a challenge that we have to step up to and relish.
“We don’t have enough points on the board from the last six weeks or so and that’s disappointing for everyone.
“It’s most probably little lacks of concentration that have killed us in games.
“That’s contributed to us not getting clean sheets and conceding silly goals.
“Liverpool are looking good at the moment.
“We turned them over on the opening day but it’s going to be a tough game at Anfield.
“We went there last year, were solid and did them on the counter-attack.
“We know its achievable on our day – if we get everything right.”
McAuley believes the return to selection of Jonas Olsson, Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu in recent weeks is key to the Baggies recording their first win of 2013 sooner rather than later.
If selected, McAuley will play his fourth successive game alongside Olsson on Monday after the Swede’s return from injury.
“Jonas is a massive player for the club and, when he’s out there, he’s 100 per cent committed,” he added.
“A centre-back partnership is an important thing and we trust each other.
“We want to develop it more. We’re both disappointed we’ve conceded a lot of goals in the last few weeks and want to get back to being strong as a core at the back.
“Hopefully, we can help the team get the results we need.”
Another key partnership, between Yacob and Mulumbu in central midfield, has also been disrupted.
Yacob was sidelined for seven weeks through injury while Mulumbu missed three league games in January through African Cup of Nations duty with DR Congo and also needed to rest a knee problem against Tottenham.
But the duo could be reunited at Anfield.
“They’re two good players – important players,” added McAuley.
“If we can get them back, they’ll do a great job for the team,
“It’s been noticeable when they haven’t been there.
“They add a nice balance to the midfield.
“When they’re playing, there’s not a massive gulf – we don’t get stretched.
“They’re always in the right place. They know their game.”