Club News

Boss hopeful on derby options

And Clarke says trio are edging closer to first-team returns

STEVE Clarke is hopeful his squad will be close to full strength for Monday’s derby clash with Villa (ko 8pm).

And the Baggies boss revealed, although the Hawthorns encounter will come too soon for Billy Jones, Scott Sinclair and Zoltan Gera (all hamstring), the trio are all close to being available for first-team action.

Clarke must now wait to see if Jonas Olsson, Shane Long and Diego Lugano all return from international duty unscathed.

Olsson was an unused substitute in Sweden's 3-2 second-leg World Cup play-off defeat by Portugal last night, sentencing them to a 4-2 reverse on aggregate.

Long played 73 minutes as the Republic of Ireland fought out a goalless draw in their friendly with Poland, and Lugano's Uruguay carry a 5-0 lead into the second leg of their World Cup play-off with Jordan tonight (ko 9pm BST).

“All the injured players are improving,” said Clarke.

“Not so many internationals went away this time.

“It looks as though we’ll have almost a full complement to choose from.

“There are only three internationals currently away – Jonas, Shane and Diego.

“Once those three come back we’ll be pretty much full strength."

He added: “Billy’s improving; he did the warm-up with the group yesterday.

“This week will maybe come a bit too quickly for him but he is improving well.

“Scott has been in and out of the group - but training with the group.

“He just needs careful management with his injury to make sure he comes back 100 per cent ready to go.

“We knew at the time when he did it, it was a significant hamstring injury.

“It’s just over seven weeks since Manchester United now and hamstrings can take anything between three and eight weeks.

“Obviously, Scotty’s was quite a serious one and we’re getting towards the upper limit.

“It’s frustrating but he knows it is part and parcel of being a footballer.

“He’s done his rehab well and he’s back in the group now and building up the day-to-day fitness that will mean he’s ready to go when we ask him to go.

“Zoltan is training now and is improving slowly and improving well.

“He’s working with the squad as and when the director of performance feels it is the right thing to do.

“He’s had little complications along the way but he is now looking stronger.

“Hopefully he’ll be available pretty soon.” 

Ben Foster is also making steady progress in his recovery from the stress fracture he suffered to his right foot in the goalless draw at Everton just over 12 weeks ago. 

“Ben is improving but improving slowly,” said Clarke.

“He is still a little bit away from match action – but there are no dramas.”