West Bromwich Albion boss Steve Bruce wants his side to try and secure a finish in the top ten following an underwhelming 2021/22 campaign, speaking to his side’s media team ahead of this afternoon’s clash against Reading.
The Baggies previously looked as though they would be fighting for promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking after going unbeaten in their opening ten league games of the season.
However, they were unconvincing in some of those matches during that run and these cracks soon turned into something more severe as their previous place in the play-offs continued to look less and less stable.
Quiz: Which club did West Brom sign these 24 players from in the 1990s?
Finally falling out of the top six at the latter stages of Valerien Ismael’s tenure in late January, they failed to enjoy a successful start under successor Steve Bruce as they won just one point from a possible 15 in his opening five league games in charge.
That poor set of games all but ruled Albion out of the promotion race and they have failed to be consistent enough since then to give themselves an outside chance of forcing their way back into the top six.
Despite this previous target no longer being achievable, Bruce wants his side to aim as high as they possibly can as they look to end what has been a disappointing season on a positive note.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s game at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, he said: “We’ve still got pride to play for and six points to play for in the next two games.
“We’re not going to finish where we all wanted to finish this year, so let’s at least try and get ourselves into the top 10.
“It’s still not good enough, but it’s certainly better than finishing in the bottom half of the table.”
A finish in the top 10 compared to a finish in the bottom half may not make much difference at this stage considering the overhaul Bruce wants to have in the summer – but finishing the season as strongly as possible can only benefit them.
At the same time, it could be the right time for Bruce to experiment with some of his younger players so he can judge who is and isn’t ready to take the step up to the first team, with the likes of Reyes Cleary and Josh Shaw potentially having a big role to play next term if they want to stay put at The Hawthorns.
Tom Fellows and Caleb Taylor may also want to force their way back into the first team and there should certainly be no shortage of motivation for them to do so considering that departures are likely to pave a pathway for them to step up to the senior team.
Taylor should be particularly hopeful if Bruce continues to operate with a back-three system, with the backline potentially in need of a shake-up despite keeping a respectable defensive record this term.
Playing these youngsters could reduce their chances of picking up points in the last couple of games this term – but looking at the bigger picture and in preparation for pre-season – it may be worth throwing in a couple of academy players to see how they cope.