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Dawson could get chance

West Bromwich Albion are looking forward to welcoming back Craig Dawson at the end of the month - and setting up an old stagers versus young pretender battle for first-team places.

Dawson has been impressive on loan during Bolton's push for a play-off place, having found opportunities hard to come by at the Hawthorns since his arrival from Rochdale more than two and a half years ago.

His 90-day stay at the Reebok Stadium ends in time for him to be available for Albion's final four matches of the season, though, and head coach Steve Clarke will ponder whether to give him a chance at the expense of either Gareth McAuley or Jonas Olsson.

Dawson has been one of the driving forces behind Bolton's climb up the table. He has even scored four times from the back in his 14 games, including twice against Hull.

With Albion's game at FA Cup finalists Manchester City having been rearranged for Tuesday, May 7 - the day after the player celebrates his 23rd birthday - the club will still have four matches to play come the time of his return. But Clarke has warned that he faces a big challenge to win a place.

"It has been tough for anyone to get in front of those two this season," said Clarke. "Gabi Tamas has been working really well in training and any time I've asked him to play, he has been excellent. But the form of the two centre-backs, Olsson and McAuley, has been top again.

"You look at the way we defend and they're a key part of that. For anyone to try to disrupt that partnership will be difficult. But what we'd like to do is get Gabi or Craig to a level where they can challenge them and raise their own performances, or get someone in who can do even better. We want competition for places.

"It's very possible Craig will get a chance. We've had somebody watching every [Bolton] game, I've spoken to Dougie Freedman and we've had good feedback. He has done well but we expected him to.

"Almost everyone has made a good contribution but if you're looking for consistency over a season then Gareth is a stand-out for me.

"It just goes to prove age is no barrier. If you're hungry enough, fit enough and good enough, you can be a top player. It doesn't matter when you do it. He got his chance late to play in the Premier League and he made the most of it. It shows in his performances.

"He's a person who looks after himself well. He looks well, he eats well, he hasn't got a pick of fat on him. He trains the way he plays - at 100%. He doesn't shirk on training, he doesn't protect himself. He puts everything in.

"When you have players like that, they tend to have longer careers. He has probably trained 90 per cent of the sessions this year, which is fantastic for any player, never mind a player everyone keeps saying is a little older. You're only as old as your body feels."

Albion also derived good value from putting George Thorne out on loan to Peterborough before Christmas, although the young midfielder then suffered a serious knee injury at Everton several weeks after his return to the Black Country.


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