West Bromwich Albion manager Valerien Ismael has warned his players they ‘cannot afford to be average’ during the 2021/22 season if they want to retain their place in the automatic promotion spots, speaking to the Express and Star ahead of tonight’s game against Stoke City.
The Baggies currently sit at the top of the Championship table going into this evening’s fixture against Michael O’Neill’s men, following two consecutive wins against Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff City.
Although the resilience they showed to grab a late winner against QPR last Friday night was admirable, their 4-0 away victory against Cardiff was particularly impressive, showing little mercy against a struggling side as they ran rampant in the second half to ensure they were bringing all three points back to the West Midlands.
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These back-to-back victories were much-needed after a frustrating run of three consecutive draws after the last international break, dropping six winnable points and temporarily being kicked out of the top two after a fast start in August.
However, they still remain unbeaten in the league so far after ten games – and will be desperate to carry that on in their final game before the international interval against a Stoke City side who look remarkably better than they have done in the previous few seasons.
The lack of home advantage in this tie will also be a challenge for Ismael’s side to contend with, although the 45-year-old is still demanding more from his players and sounding a warning to those who may get complacent.
He said: “I am proud (of the unbeaten record).
“It shows the hard work all the staff have put in with the players from day one. We have had to implement a new way to play and it’s the result of hard work.
“It’s not enough. We need to continue to carry on.
“We need to win with consistency if we are to stay where we are.
“We cannot afford to be average otherwise someone will come and take our spot.
“It’s all about maintaining our performance level, our mentality, and our desire to continue to move forward.”
Consistency is a key word for West Brom this season and Ismael has rightly used it.
Their start to the campaign has been promising and they currently sit in a very good position going into this tie, but their performances and results during the remainder of this campaign will determine whether they get back to the Premier League next year or not.
Because of this, there can’t afford to be any complacency in the West Brom ranks or have squad members who are happy to coast along for the rest of 2021/22.
Competition in each position should help the Baggies to maintain their performance levels and keep themselves at least in reach of the likes of AFC Bournemouth and Fulham who are also near the top of the table and will be desperate to displace the West Midlands outfit.
They certainly have a sufficient level of competition in central defence when everyone’s fit, but they will probably be looking to add two or three more in January to give them the best possible chance of a top-flight return.
Turning draws into wins will also be key, something they are now managing to do after a slow start to last month.