Caretaker boss deliberates changes as he focuses on 'special competition'
KEITH Downing is hoping to keep Albion’s momentum going as he deliberates his starting XI to take on Crystal Palace tomorrow (ko 3pm) in what he has called a ‘special competition’.
The Baggies’ FA Cup third-round home tie will be their fifth game in 15 days, following on from three successive draws and a victory in the Barclays Premier League.
And Downing has full faith in whoever he fields at The Hawthorns, having used 20 different players during that unbeaten spell.
“We’d gone long enough without a win and beating Newcastle was a big lift,” said the caretaker head coach.
“There was a big relief after the game and it was down to a big contribution from everybody.
“We need to now kick on and, after that blip, we need to try and put a run together – and the FA Cup is part of that run.
“I’ve rotated the squad in the last four games.
“My intention from the moment I took over was to utilise everybody.
“I think we’ve done that and there will be no exceptions again tomorrow.
“I’m looking for the best team with the freshest legs and the energy to go again.
“Five games in 15 days is a big haul in the modern-day game.
“With the big squad we have it is important to use the players.”
And Downing is eager to set the Baggies off on a cup run, with the club only going beyond the fifth round once in the last ten years.
“As a traditionalist, I’m big on the FA Cup,” he added.
“You saw Wigan winning it last season.
“It’s an opportunity for clubs like ourselves to go all the way and achieve something.
“If you’re player; if you ask Ben Watson I’m sure the pinnacle of his career was to score the winning goal at Wembley, and he’ll say it was the best moment of his life.
“It’s a special competition and makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
“I think it means a lot to the players.
“We haven’t progressed very far in cup competitions in recent times and we want to try and change that record and go as long as we can in the competition.
“There is still a buzz about it, and we’ll be trying to get through to the next round tomorrow.”
Albion comfortably won the league meeting between the two sides 2-0 in November thanks to Saido Berahino and Gareth McAuley strikes.
But Downing is expecting a different proposition from an Eagles outfit now managed by Tony Pulis.
“I think Palace have a fairly sizeable squad so I think Tony will be looking to add some freshness to his team,” he said.
“I have total respect for Tony Pulis, and whatever side he puts out will be organised and hard to beat.
“They certainly are a different Palace side to when they came a few weeks ago.
“They’ve picked up reasonably good results and went to Man City, showed some real resilience and could have won it or at least a draw.”