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Mar 14, 2013

Long battling for Stoke return

Shane Long is again a doubt as West Bromwich Albion aim to prove they have cracked their Britannia Stadium jinx on Saturday.

The Ireland international missed the victory over Swansea five days ago after aggravating an ankle injury in training.

He will be assessed by the Baggies' medical staff before a decision is taken on whether he has any chance of joining in with training on Friday and therefore challenging for a return against Stoke.

"We have the same doubts as last week," head coach Steve Clarke said. "I spoke to the doctor this morning and he said if Shane had a good day today, he may try a little training tomorrow."

Long has not trained at all this week, nor has defender Steven Reid, whose troubled campaign has taken another down-turn with the groin problem that has sidelined him since the narrow defeat at Chelsea nearly a fortnight ago.

Reid has had various setbacks this season, notably the broken leg he suffered at Arsenal in December, as well as further hamstring trouble.

Long's absence has been eased by the outstanding form of Romelu Lukaku, who has shouldered Albion's goalscoring burden in recent weeks.

Long, the club's leading marksman for the opening few months of the season, has not netted since the end of January, but Albion have still prospered and won three of their last four matches.

Youssouf Mulumbu, named man of the match against Swansea, has been tipped by Lukaku to start chipping in with the goals in the push to finish the season in style. The midfielder has struck only twice over the last two seasons, having hit seven goals in the 2010-11 campaign.

"I think Youssouf was the best player on the pitch on Saturday and he seemed to start every attack," Lukaku said. "His role has changed slightly and he seems to push up the team more. All he is missing is some goals and I keep telling him that in training. He is working very hard on his finishing and his offensive play.

"It's hard when you've been playing as a holding midfielder and now you have moved up the pitch into a more attacking position. But he will get there and by the end of the season he will score a few goals to help us climb the league."

Lukaku says he is grateful to the club's midfielders, who have assisted him in plundering 13 top-flight goals already this term.

"The team is very dynamic now and that's great for us," he said. "We have several midfield players who can play on the wing, in the middle, or in holding roles. We are able to play a number of different ways and I think that makes it very difficult to play against us."

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