Practice pays off as Albion earn praise on their travels

Roy Hodgson credits his side's 'desire' after second successive away win takes West Bromwich into the top 10 of the Premier League

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Roy Hodgson, the West Bromwich Albion manager, has praised the application of his players after seeing them drag themselves into the Premier League's top 10.

Wednesday's frenetic 3-2 victory at Newcastle means Albion will enjoy Christmas having collected 21 points from their first 17 games and sitting in the upper half of the table. Fourteen of those points have been collected on the road, and while the home form is a cause for concern for the hugely experienced manager, he insists that that return is down to his players' capacity for hard work.

"Our style of play is our style of play. We try to stick to it and work at it, and I must say, this group of players is quite exceptional in terms of desire to do well, in terms of character, but also in terms of their willingness to practise," Hodgson said.

"Practice is the most difficult thing. Everyone wants to play, but not everyone wants to practise. It's the desire and the will to practise which can often be the difference between success and failure for a lot of clubs.

"I am very lucky, I have got a team here like I had at Fulham that has got a great desire to practise and improve what maybe they are already good at. I'm not teaching them new things, they are just practising their job."

West Brom were twice pegged back by Newcastle – or more accurately, by in-form striker Demba Ba – after taking the lead. They got their noses in front with 20 minutes gone when striker Peter Odemwingie made the most of captain Chris Brunt's superb pass, and then after Ba had converted a 34th-minute free-kick, Gareth McAuley chose the perfect moment to open his account for the club a minute before the break.

The Northern Irishman's close-range header looked like being enough until Ba levelled nine minutes from time, but Paul Scharner stabbed home a late winner to ensure all the hard work did not go to waste.

Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, later admitted his side had at times lacked discipline, and pointed to the pressing of Albion's front two, Odemwingie and Shane Long, who hit the bar shortly after the break, as a major factor.

Hodgson said: "The front two were magnificent. They were very good at Blackburn and they were very good tonight. I was asked a question, can they form a good partnership, these two? I think they can.

"It's early doors for them because Odemwingie had the best part of the early part of the season spoiled through injury, and it's only recently that he has been back fully-fit and can play."

West Brom return to action on Boxing Day, when they face the daunting prospect of trying to keep leaders Manchester City at bay at the Hawthorns. Hodgson will keep his fingers crossed that midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu and full-back Steven Reid are available after both limped out of Wednesday's game.

He said: "Mulumbu has got a groin strain, which he has been managing for a while now, but it reminds itself to him from time to time, so we took him off as a precaution because he was obviously labouring a little bit through it. Steven has got an ankle injury through landing on the ankle badly. We will have to assess it."

Across the west Midlands, the Aston Villa manager, Alex McLeish, admitted winger Marc Albrighton has "climbed a mountain" to recapture last season's form after he scored the 20,000th goal in the Premier League. Albrighton achieved the milestone during Wednesday's 2-1 home defeat to Arsenal.

The academy product was outstanding during his first full season of top-flight football and was voted the club's young player of the year. But this season the 22-year-old has struggled to regain those heights and found himself on the bench for the majority of the time.

Albrighton finally earned a recall at the start of the month and capped his fourth successive start with the 20,000th goal. McLeish said: "Marc has climbed a mountain since the start of the season. He was doubting himself but the kid cares.

"He is conscientious, I told him the only thing you can keep doing is working hard. I told him 'You will get your chance and opportunity' and sometimes it changes just like that. He has excelled over the last few weeks and his goal against Arsenal was a classic case of never giving up and chasing lost causes."