Clarke eyes derby boost for West Brom
Steve Clarke has identified Saturday's Hawthorns derby against Aston Villa as the perfect opportunity for West Bromwich Albion to start ensuring that their promising season doesn't fall away into anonymity.
The Baggies, so bright for so long this term, now find themselves in their worst run of 2012-13 - five matches without a victory - following last night's low-key 1-0 FA Cup defeat Queens Park Rangers.
With their Premier League future all but assured after the stockpiling of 33 points by the turn of the year, the club had targeted a good Cup run as a priority over the second half of the campaign. Jay Bothroyd's late goal killed off those hopes but a meeting with struggling Villa in three days' time gives Albion chance to re-focus their sights quickly.
"The game didn't have a spark but if there was one team pushing to win it, it was us," Clarke said. "Ten months is a long season – there will be periods where things don't go for you.
"We need to turn it around against Aston Villa."
The extent to which Albion's fortunes have dwindled in recent weeks is underlined by the fact that their win-less run has come despite fixtures against Rangers (twice), Fulham and Reading since they were beaten at Manchester United in their last match of 2012.
Injuries have played a part but the squad had previously looked big enough to cope with absentees – and Clarke is not planning to buy in this month's window.
"We have nothing in the offing," he added. "We don't expect to do anything.
"The squad has been stretched in recent weeks but the lads have done their best. We only made four changes (against Rangers) and two of those were enforced.
"I couldn't risk Jonas Olsson after he'd been out for so long. And Chris Brunt had the flu."
The hopes of key midfielder Claudio Yacob being fit to face Villa are in the balance. The Argentine has been out since well before Christmas with a hamstring problem while Shane Long is battling to recover from a dead leg in time to play.
Marc-Antoine Fortune is another who could be back and Peter Odemwingie's in-and-out mid-season spell continued with an 18-minute return last night following a calf problem.
"Claudio has trained for a couple of days," Clarke said. "He has a chance for Saturday – he's 50-50. Shane's dead leg is improving – he's 50-50 too. Fortuné has a better chance perhaps.
"But I won't risk any of my players. If they're fit, they'll play. If not, they won't."
Clarke has been saying for months that he didn't plan to use the January window to any great degree and that he would be happy merely to hang on to the players he has.
That has become a significant matter recently given Rangers' rejected bids for Olsson and Odemwingie.