Third in the Premier League, four points off the leaders and five clear of the nearest pretender for a Champions League place – West Bromwich Albion boss Steve Clarke will be thinking this managerial lark is a piece of cake.
To have the club riding so high in the division just six months after taking charge is a monumental feat, even if it is only late November, and there seems to be a groundswell of opinion that now thinks that West Brom can be this season’s surprise package – a la Newcastle United last year – and keep up a sustained bid for the European places.
Time will tell, but Clarke has made the transition from number two to the main man brilliantly. He has never looked like the most cheerful of chaps – you always got the impression that at Christmas he’d be the sort of bloke who would refuse to pull a cracker and sit in the corner moaning about how happy everybody looked – but since taking the top job at the Hawthorns he seems like a different person.
Okay, he still doesn’t look like the sort of bloke you’d be desperate to share a pint with, but he is far more relaxed and personable, and seems to be thriving on the responsibility he has finally been entrusted with.
I was never one who expected Clarke to bomb. Those who couldn’t wait to line up and tip the Baggies for relegation because of his lack of experience seemed to forget that he was inheriting a fine squad that was not only full of well seasoned top-flight professionals, but very good at football, too.
As an aside, what does Clarke’s performance so far say about Roy Hodgson? Clarke has the same players at his disposal, but is playing a much more exciting brand of football and attaining better results. Alas, I doubt we’ll hear many people saying that Uncle Roy didn’t do so great, will we?
Whatever the merits of that argument, Clarke has been mightily impressive and I see no reason at all why the Baggies’ bandwagon can’t bounce on a little bit longer and their visit to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City could well bring another three points.
West Brom were 2/1 to win at Sunderland at the weekend and did so with ease, and you have to be on the 21/10 that they see off Swansea as well, with winnings of £62 on offer for anyone successfully backing them with their free £20 bet after registering with bwin.
I know Sunderland are rubbish, but it’s not like the Swans are amazing and I don’t see how they can be the 13/10 favourites against a team who have won four games on the bounce and are absolutely flying.
Only the two Manchester clubs have taken more points in the last six matches, while only Manchester United have won more matches than the Baggies’ eight.
Swansea have coped very well with the departure of manager Brendan Rodgers, as well as last season’s star performers Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair, and they will be in no danger of relegation whatsoever.
But they are no better than a mid-table outfit and I don’t see how they can be favourites to beat this West Brom team. I’m not even interested in taking the draw at 11/5, either.
Clarke’s side have goals in abundance: only four teams have scored more often than Albion’s 23, while they have only failed to score in one of their league matches, a defeat by Fulham at Craven Cottage when they were reduced to ten men after the sending off of Peter Odemwingie.
On the other hand, Swansea don’t have an abundance of goals in them – only West Ham have scored fewer in the top half and they have drawn five blanks, as many as anybody.
So it could be a case of one or two being more than enough for West Brom, who have been mean at the back, too, letting in just 15 goals to post the fifth-best defensive record in the division. They have also had an extra day of rest, which could prove pivotal at this busy time of the season.
In short, Clarke has the Baggies on a roll and while the bookies are still underestimating them, I want to be on their side. So 21/10 on a West Brom win it is.