Steve Clarke has no doubts over Premier League future of West Brom and Norwich City
Wherever West Brom or Norwich City find their seasons heading following Saturday’s result, Albion boss Steve Clarke believes both sides will get the chance to do it again at The Hawthorns in the Premier League next season.
Both clubs appear to be well on their way to doing far more than simply securing top-flight safety this season, with almost half of the season completed.
Albion’s win sent them level on points with the Champions League positions, while City’s first league defeat in 11 did little to dent their midtable security.
“For sure, no doubts,” said Clarke over both sides surviving this season. “But we weren’t just aiming for Premier League survival. Forty points is the ultimate target for about 14 clubs in the Premier League but it wasn’t the target we sat down and discussed at the start of the season with this group of players.
“Maybe Norwich have been a surprise package but I think with the players we have got at our club, we should be winning the amount of games we have won and we should be pushing up in the league. The last two seasons West Bromwich Albion have finished 11th and 10th, so why you would go into this season thinking you wanted to finish 17th or just outside the bottom three is beyond me. I’ve got more ambition than that and I think my players have got more ambition than that.”
Victory for Albion was their first in five games, and while they looked like a struggling side at times, Zoltan Gera’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time – the hosts’ first goal in more than 350 minutes – proved vital.
“We huffed and puffed a little bit in the game to be honest,” added Clarke. “I thought it was crucial for us to get the goal just before half-time. We hadn’t scored for a number of hours as people kept pointing out, and sometimes when it’s like that you need either a fantastic goal or a really scrappy goal and we got a scrappy goal and that changed it.
“At the start of the second half I made one change, which was tactical. Graham Dorrans had done well in the first half but we felt maybe him and Chris Brunt were a little too similar, always looking to get on the ball, and we tried to address that. It didn’t really change the course of the game if I’m being honest. We were still stuttering a bit so I thought I would stick on another forward and stick four up front and try to turn one point into three, because I felt it was a game where three points was really important for us.”
The man who picked up the plaudits was Romelu Lukaku – the 19-year-old striker on a season-long loan from Chelsea, and Albion’s matchwinner. Clarke said: “He a big talent and he has got a big future ahead of him in the game.
“The fact he hadn’t been getting in the team for most of the season is down to the form of Shane Long, who shouldn’t be forgotten either because I thought Shane made a difference when he came on. He tied up the other centre-back and maybe gave a little bit more space to Romelu. It was a great header. I think it was more a reward for perseverance and great play because it’s another performance when we were a little bit scratchy and not quite flowing as we were earlier in the season.
“But when you are coming on four games without a win there is a little more pressure on it and it was a big game for us today.”