Megson challenges players to deliver

Gary Megson's relief that the transfer window has failed to reveal any serious interest in West Bromwich Albion's key midfielder, Jason Koumas, is tempered by the continued absence of the Wales international from today's line-up when the First Division promotion challengers face Watford at the Hawthorns.

Koumas has been out of action since suffering a knee injury three weeks ago and is not expected to return at least until next weekend's trip to Preston, although the Albion manager Megson concedes that the player's rehabilitation might take longer.

"He has had a bit of cartilage removed but fortunately the knee does not need rebuilding," Megson said. "If he really pushes himself during re-hab, hopefully he'll be back sooner rather than later." The unavailability of the 24-year-old is a blow to West Bromwich given that they must also manage without the strikers Rob Hulse (suspended) and Scott Dobie (injured), although had Koumas been the target for Premiership predators that some had predicted, it might have been worse.

In fact, despite their high placing in the division, West Bromwich have not needed to turn down bids for any players, which reflects poorly on the quality Megson has in his charge but well on his ability to mould them into a credible team.

However, the manager knows as well as anyone that some of his squad need to produce more quality if their promotion ambitions are to be realised and says that the absence of Koumas will increase the demands on other players.

"We'll miss Jason because the other midfield players aren't scoring enough goals and they have to start putting that right," he said. "There are people who haven't scored who should be looking at three or four by now. It's not acceptable."

The biggest disappointment, arguably, has been the Macedonia international Artim Sakiri. His signing by Megson looked a real coup after the 30-year-old's performance against England in the European Championship qualifiers, when the former Yugoslav republic forced a 2-2 draw at St Mary's. However, in 23 appearances, Sakiri has managed only one goal, although that is one more than either Andy Johnson or James O'Connor, both of whom have started many more games than Sakiri.

Still, a win by one goal against Watford today could take West Bromwich above Norwich should the leaders fall to third-placed Sheffield United at Carrow Road. If their shock reverse at Derby on Wednesday is a measure of their current form, Neil Warnock's team should not trouble Norwich but the outspoken United manager has told his players they cannot afford to lose.

"The Derby result has put us under pressure," he said. "We have to stay up with the leaders and a win for Norwich would cast us further adrift." Warnock, who has already used 29 players in his first team this season, plans to pitch Carl Robinson straight into the action after signing the Wales midfielder on a month's loan from Portsmouth. "We were lacking in that area at Derby and Carl has convinced me he wants to play for us," Warnock said.

But he believes Norwich have put themselves under pressure by committing themselves to an estimated £3.5m in transfer fees and wages with their recent signings. "They need to go up because they will not be able to sustain that kind of spending in the First Division," Warnock added.

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