Clarke refusing to get carried away as West Brom continue to impress
Wigan Athletic 1 West Bromwich Albion 2:An apprenticeship spanning more than a decade has shaped Steve Clarke’s perspective on management. Yet it was an experience from his playing career rather than one from his four stints as an assistant that he recalled after a maiden away victory of the season maintained West Brom’s impressive start to the season.
“It was before the Premier League, back in my Chelsea days. I can remember I scored a goal – that’s why it’s memorable – we beat Everton 1-0, we went top of the league and we ended up fighting relegation. So this league can quickly come back to haunt you,” said Clarke.
Chelsea’s 2012-13 vintage are West Brom’s next opponents and James Morrison, who headed in the opener on his return from a hamstring injury on Saturday, believes it is the kind of fixture that will highlight the progress made in the 11 matches since Clarke succeeded Roy Hodgson at the Hawthorns.
“We do look at the table but it’s up to us to keep it going. Everyone thinks it’s a bit of fluke us being up there but it’s not, the gaffer sets us up each week to counter the opposition and everyone works extremely hard for the team,” he said.
“I think they [Chelsea] will be really wary of us. It’s a tough test at The Hawthorns and we’ve got some good wins this season. When we played Manchester City we should have got something out of it but didn’t get it, so we will be going for the win against Chelsea.”
Shane Long, a real thorn in the Wigan defence, continues to play on through a hamstring niggle, while the goalkeeper Ben Foster did the same with a groin problem before undergoing minor surgery in Germany last week. Having made way for Boaz Myhill against Wigan, there is a chance it is the only match he will miss.
Clarke’s tactical nous was to the fore: out went Peter Odemwingie, two-goal hero of the win over Southampton the previous week, and in came the powerful Belgian Romelu Lukaku in a switch to a traditional 4-4-2 formation. The switch had dual purpose. In addition to harrying Wigan’s ball-playing backline, it provided an increased physical threat.
Lukaku had a hand in both goals – his one-two with Billy Jones for the second incorporating the pass of the match, and he also forced Ali al-Habsi to deflect a hammer of a drive over the top, less than 15 minutes after Arouna Kone had pulled things back to 2-1.
Wigan were ultimately outthought and outfought and their manager, Roberto Martinez, said: “We have found a good level in terms of our performance but sometimes lack a knowhow to get a result when we’re not playing well.”