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Premier League

Stoke v West Bom: Steve Clarke says slow start to the season was no concern

The Baggies finished 8th last season but have struggled to replicate that form this term

West Brom head coach Steve Clarke was never close to pushing the panic button despite his side's poor start to the Barclays Premier League season.

Albion had to wait until late September to earn their first win of the campaign, having finished an impressive eighth in the table last term.

Home defeats by Southampton and Swansea had some supporters twitching and Clarke himself admitted at the time a win was needed sooner rather than. However, having got off the mark with a 3-0 victory against Sunderland on September 21, the Baggies have strung together a four-match unbeaten run featuring a 2-1 win away to Manchester United and an impressive 1-1 draw at Arsenal last time out.

The level-headed Scot insists it was never a major concern when the goals were not coming.

"The bad start to the season was just three games, really," he said. "Well, two games out of the three because we actually played quite well at Everton and got a point (in between the Southampton and Swansea defeats).

"It was two poor home performances but we didn't panic about it.

"We know, and have said before, that we've got a lot of players here who understand the Premier League. It's a long season and you can go three, four or five games on a bad run but also go on a three or four game good run. You just have to balance the moments and keep picking up the points."

Albion's best performances so far this season have been against so-called 'big guns' United and Arsenal but Clarke insists trips to places like Stoke, who they face on Saturday, are just as hard in their own way.

"Every game in this league is tough," he said. "This is a difficult, difficult fixture for us. Sometimes when you play against the top teams there is a little bit less pressure because nobody expects the result but we go to Stoke and people will be expecting us to get a positive result there. We do too, but it adds a little bit more pressure."

Clarke hopes to have a largely injury-free squad at his disposal for the Britannia Stadium trip.

All of his international players returned from the recent break without reporting any notable problems, with only Uruguayan defender Diego Lugano yet to return to be assessed.

Clarke, therefore, only has two definite absentees in the shape of goalkeeper Ben Foster (foot) and winger Scott Sinclair (hamstring). Matej Vydra, Victor Anichebe, Shane Long and Zoltan Gera are all available after recent injuries.