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Fan Focus: The Baggies Beat From West Brom Writer, Chris Lepkowski

This week's Fan Focus takes a slight twist in that whilst it's not a fan per se, but it is the man who is quite possibly the leading authority on all things West Brom. It's a pleasure to reintroduce to you the Birmingham Mail's WBA reporter Chis Lepkowski to talk all things Baggies.

Michael Regan

First of all I'd like to ask about Steve Clarke. Now you've seen a bit more of him since we last spoke back in November, does he continue to impress and would it be fair to say he has an outside chance of Manager Of The Year?

Chris Lepkowski: Not sure about Manager of the Year - there is still a quarter of the season or so left to go - but he certainly acquitted himself very well. He's taken on board errors and reacted to them. He'll have learned a lot from this recent period. He's had to deal with so much nonsense.

We might as well get this one out the way... Peter Odemwingie. That must have been a crazy thing to deal with form your side of things on deadline day?

CL: It was a bizarre few weeks. It started with a transfer request, which was rejected. He then issued a statement which did him few favours and then we had the Twitter meltdown. All of this came to a head on transfer deadline day when he rocked up at Loftus Road and was interviewed by Sky (it's not unusual for players to travel if negotiations are underway between clubs on deadline day - but most players have the sense to pitch up in a nearby hotel). It was an extremely awkward situation for him and Albion.

It's calmed down a little but it won't properly be put to bed until he plays. And even then there are some fans who will never take to him.

Is it fair to say there's absolutely no way back for him at the Hawthorns now, and if so who will be stepping up in place of him and how will WBA adapt to life without him?

CL: Albion need him. They are running, effectively, a 20-man squad between now and the end of the season. One of those, Goran Popov is suspended, although they can bring back Craig Dawson from Bolton should they need him. And next week Albion take on Chelsea so Romelu Lukaku will be ineligible. Odemwingie could make the squad by default if nothing else.

When we last met at the Stadium Of Light it was a fairly comprehensive victory for the Baggies and you found yourselves in the top four for an extended spell. Things have changed slightly though and you're now in eighth. What was the cause of the decline?

CL: It's the same with Albion every November-to-January. They simply don't have a squad capable of being stretched.

They lost Mulumbu, Yacob, Olsson, Foster, Reid, Odemwingie and Gera to injuries at various points during that spell. Those are first-teamers for Albion. It's no coincidence that the return of Yacob-Mulumbu to the core of Albion's midfield at Anfield - for the first time since December 1st - resulted with a better outcome.

A great victory against Liverpool at Anfield last time out though should see Steve Clarke's men arrive in high-spirits though...

CL: Yes, Albion finally had some good fortune. They weren't brilliant at Anfield but they got some much needed luck. Contrast that with the defeat at Reading where Lukaku scored twice, hit the goalframe twice and Albion were cruising 2-0 with 81 minutes gone. They lost 3-2.

How much of a factor has Yusuf Mulumbu been this season? I've always been very, very impressed by him whenever I see West Brom...

CL: Immense contribution. He and Claudio Yacob have brought so much to the spine of that midfield. They dovetail very well and the results when the partnership plays is staggering. Albion average 1.9 points per game when they play. When they don't play together Albion average 0.9 points per game. Mulumbu's overall game has improved during the last year. Yacob's ability to 'hold' enables his partner to venture forward. He's become more of a central midfielder in the true sense of the word.

Someone else I've enjoyed watching from West Brom's side is Romelu Lukaku. While he's been superb at times, he's also given me plenty of nightmares about this weekend. Is there any chance he stays at the club, and how far can this prodigious talent make it in the game?

CL: He's improving all the time - it's the subtle things he is getting better at. Against Newcastle earlier this season he missed some one-on-ones by blasting the ball at Tim Krul. He learned from that. Next time he was presented with similar chances he took different options with his finishing. He times his runs better than he did. He's using space around him better and he's appreciating team-mates more. There are still signs of a raw edge - we forget he's 19 sometimes - but he can be a major asset for Chelsea over the coming years.

And finally, looking at this weekend's fixture, is there anyone or anything about the Sunderland side which
you think can cause WBA problems?

CL: Sessegnon always seems to perform well against Albion. He's a little pest (in a nice way). And Steven Fletcher, while expected to get the inevitable bird, is a quality player. Sunderland haven't scored at The Hawthorns in the last three games. He is one player you'd fancy to end that run...


Many thanks to Chris for providing the insight. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @ChrisLepkowski and check out all his views, news and reports on West Brom on the Birmingham Mail website.

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