West Brom come into their clash with struggling Aston Villa on the back of a difficult week that saw them throw away a 2-0 lead at Reading before succumbing to a weakened QPR side in their FA Cup third round replay on home soil in midweek. Steve Clarke will have known that his side’s surprise early season form, which saw them as high as third in the Premier League table, was unlikely to last but will be wary of seeing the Baggies’ promising season peter out into mid-table mediocrity.
Clarke has said he will reshape his side after their rather lethargic showings in recent weeks and is currently waiting on the fitness of Chris Brunt and Marc-Antoine Fortune, who will both undergo fitness tests after periods on the sidelines with hamstring injuries. Elsewhere, though Chris Brunt is available after illness, striker Shane Long is doubtful with a dead leg, Steven Reid is ruled out with a broken leg while Youssouf Mulumbu is at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Meanwhile, Aston Villa’s season is slowly descending into freefall. Last week’s defeat at home to Southampton was their fifth league game in a row without a win, conceding 18 goals in the process, leaving them mired in the relegation zone in 18th position.
Under-pressure boss Paul Lambert has not been helped by a large and ever-increasing injury list. However, the Scot will be boosted by captain Ron Vlaar’s first start for the club since late November. Joe Bennett has also recovered from illness to take his place in the squad but the likes of Richard Dunne (groin), Shay Given (hamstring), Chris Herd (foot), Marc Albrighton (ankle) and Darren Bent (knee) remain absent.