Club News

Popov has fight on his hands

Clarke also clarifies winger Thomas' future

STEVE Clarke insists Goran Popov will have to fight for a place in Albion’s starting XI following Liam Ridgewell’s impressive performances at left-back.

The Macedonia international is available for selection for Saturday’s Hawthorns clash with Swansea (ko 3pm) after completing a three-game ban for his dismissal against Tottenham last month.

Ridgewell’s recall coincided with back-to-back victories over Liverpool and Sunderland – with the Baggies recording their first clean sheet in 11 games at Anfield. 

And the Albion head coach hopes the lure of a permanent deal at The Hawthorns for Popov, who is on a season-long loan from Dynamo Kiev, will result in further selection headaches in the coming weeks.

“Goran has to step up and show he can challenge for the left-back position again because Liam has been really good since he got back in,” said Clarke.

“Liam's had a little chance of an extended run in the team and done well. 

“I like to think all the players every week, every day are trying to impress me. 

“But there is an end product for Goran. 

“His situation won't be finalised until the end of the season. 

“He has to keep at it, keep impressing and work every day in training. 

“Having said that, his attitude has been really good. 

“He's made some impressive performances for us and the type of competition we've got for the left-back position is the kind of competition you want to replicate all over the pitch. 

“There are two good players fighting for the same position.

“It can be that when someone is chasing your position, it focuses your mind a little bit. 

“That's what I meant about having competition for places. 

“It focuses your mind if someone is trying to take your place and it works in reverse if you're trying to get into the team.”

The Hawthorns chief also confirmation he has no immediate plans to loan out Jerome Thomas, who remains the subject of interest from Blackburn. 

“The size of the squad dictates everything for us,” added Clarke. 

“We saw at Stamford Bridge we had 16-year-old Izzy Brown on the bench as we had two players unavailable - one suspended and one who couldn't play against his parent club.

“So the squad on Saturday was not full of senior players and I would be very, very surprised if any senior players left the squad now.”