ALBION’s under-21s head for Macclesfield on Tuesday night aiming to clinch their first Checkatrade Trophy KO stage appearance at the third time of asking.
The Baggies youngsters have so far beaten Blackpool and then lost narrowly at Accrington Stanley in Northern Group C to leave their qualification hopes on a knife edge.
Blackpool and Accrington meet at the same time but Jamie Smith and his young team know victory at Macclesfield will guarantee progress.
And U23s boss Smith is not alone in seeing Albion’s young Academy products enjoying genuine gains from their experience in this newly-formatted competition.
James Shan, their former coach who has now moved up to first-team duties, watched the youngsters in action in the 2-1 defeat at Accrington and noted the benefits of their brush with senior professionals from the bottom two Football League divisions.
"The 23s were excellent that night - they gave a performance to be really proud of,” said Shan.
"The development and growth in these players over the last 18 months makes all the difficult times we endured last season worth it.
"Accrington proved a real challenge and put the boys under some enormous pressure but throughout they showed resilience and personality.
"A tactical change enabled the boys to enjoy some domination - albeit in spells - and they caused Accrington some real problems.
“There is always something to learn and the boys will know their game management and decision-making in the final stages could have been better as a draw would have been a great point.
“But there were some very good performances and considering the age of the group almost an outstanding achievement.
“It shows the importance of continuity in team selection also as players have formed good relationships.”
Tuesday's match has a 7.45pm kick off and, as per competition rules, level scores at full time will mean a penalty shoot-out and the chance to claim a bonus point for the winners.