West Bromwich Albion: Can Clarke lead the Baggies to silverware this season?
When the fixture list was revealed most neutrals felt Steve Clarke was going to have a dreadful start to his career at the Hawthorns. Here was a guy with no previous experience of being a number one starting life at home to his former club Liverpool, away to Spurs and at home to Everton. However, the former Chelsea number two must be wondering what all the fuss about being a manager is all about.
The Baggies have made their best-ever start to a Premier League season and Albion chairman Jeremy Peace looks to have appointed another top manager. The Baggies head into this weekend's clash at Fulham undefeated, with only one goal conceded and sitting third in the league just two points behind leaders Chelsea.
West Brom fans are living the dream but they are not fooled into thinking they will still be third come May. Too many teams have enjoyed a great start to a season to fade away and end up either in a relegation fight or relegated. But that will not happen to the Baggies this season. A great squad of talented players has been assembled at the Hawthorns and how many other sides out there can boast about having an £18 million striker on their subs bench for this season?
Over the weekend I managed to catch up with West Brom season ticket holder Andy Wakeman to find out what he makes of Steve Clarke, the side's amazing start to the season and hopes for the rest of the campaign.
Mr Wakeman admits that he has been surprised by Albion's stunning start but believes Clarke has made some great additions to the squad in the summer.
"I don’t think anyone expected such a strong start but we have done some good business in the summer. Every player we have signed is a full international and I think it has gone under the radar to great extent. I am more than happy with the progress being made and make no mistake we are a decent side."
When Roy Hodgson left the Hawthorns to take over the national job with England a few eyebrows were raised when Steve Clarke was appointed. Many thought it was a backward move. His displays so far have kept everyone happy, but Andy is not getting carried away just yet.
"I think there would have been concerns whoever had taken over given the job that Roy Hodgson did," said Andy. "Usually when a new man comes in it is because the previous manager has been deemed a failure. This was not the situation in our case and Roy was hard act to follow. Clarke comes across as a quiet but very focused and driven individual and fans and players seem to have taken to him. No-one can complain about the performances so far but the real test will come when we lose a couple of games."
Liverpool were sent back to Merseyside on the back of a 3-0 hammering on the opening day and the Baggies fought to the bitter end at White Hart Lane to rescue a point. They then clipped Everton's wings at home. So what has Clarke done to make the Baggies unbeatable?
"He has made subtle changes to the way the team is set up and this has built on the defensive organisation that Hodgson brought in but gives us more fluidity when we go forward," said Andy. "Against Liverpool and Spurs we had an £18m striker on the bench in Lukaku and that’s a great option to have. One goal conceded in three games cannot to be ignored either."
Clarke was given money to sign his own men in the summer but most of them were not household names. Mark Rosenberg, Claudio Yacob and Yassine El Ghanassy on loan were mostly greeted with a cry of 'Who?' but Yacob looks like being a new hero in the Black Country.
The one major worry facing Clarke and the Baggies fan is the future of defender Jonas Olsson. He has been a great servant for the club and the manager is desperate for him to sign a new deal. Just how vital is it to keep Olsson at the club? Andy believes it's vital for both parties that they stay together.
West Brom fans have had a lot to smile about over the past few seasons. They have cemented their place in the Premier League and are the top dogs in the West Midlands, but they have gone four decades without winning a trophy - the Championship in 2008 aside. Steve Clarke has spoken of his desire to end this wait. If that were to happen it would mean the world to Andy.
So what are the realistic aims of West Brom this season? Andy is confident of building on this stunning start and pushing for a place in Europe.
"I would like to think we can aim for top eight or maybe sneak into a Europa League place. A cup run would be great. To win a trophy would be fantastic."
The 2012/13 season is only three games old and there is an awful lot that can happen between now and May. At the moment the Baggies are boinging. Let's hope they are still doing the same come the end of the season.
Calling all West Brom fans: What do you make of the Baggies' sensational start to the season? Do you think Steve Clarke can sustain it and challenge for Europe? What would it mean to win a trophy this season? How proud are you of being a West Brom fan right now? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.
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