We caught up with The Birmingham Mail's Chris Lepkowski to gain the inside scoop on West Brom and how their fans are feeling going into tomorrow's Premier League clash
West Brom have been in eye-catching form so far this term and currently find themselves in fourth spot, how has Steve Clark inspired such a start?
Chris Lepkowski: He's taken over a good set of players and made them more dynamic, while maintaining principles instilled by Roy Hodgson. Useful additions - Yacob, Lukaku, Popov - has strengthened the squad. A change in system has helped. Albion play a fluid 4231 (RH was very 442) and get the ball forward more quickly and with more pace. It's led to a greater turnover in possession stats - only once have Albion held more possession than opposition, vs Reading - but, in fact, the Baggies are easier on the eye, creating more and scoring more.
Shane Long leads the way for WBA in both goals and assists, how important has his form been to the Baggies' success?
CL: Excellent progress. He could have made a difference between 10th and, say, eighth, last season had he remained fit. His goals are valued but his overall play has been a pleasure to watch. Strong, quick and able to find the right balance between being selfish and selfless. He's impressing many. A true No9 - perhaps Albion's first since Bob Taylor.
WBA head into Saturday's lunchtime fixture on the back of three wins on the bounce, confidence must be sky-high in the camp?
CL: Yes. There is a real energy within Albion's camp. Hopefully the swagger won't cross the line of confidence within the dressing room, but Albion fans have every right to enjoy. Comparisons to side of the late 1970s/early80s side are already starting. Cliched and lazy perhaps...but, for once, relevant.
Sunderland have been a disappointing mixed bag of performances and results this season, however there have been signs of a turn around of late - how do you assess their start?
CL: Feel a little sorry in respect of the in-balance of home/away fixtures. But if you're going to build a new stadium without a roof then you get what you deserve.... Steven Fletcher has impressed. He scores goals, he creates, he's strong and when he last faced Albion he netted once...only for his side to concede five. Can't see that happening tomorrow.
Moving on to this weekend's game, what is the "main threat" that WBA pose that can win them the game?
CL: Long has to be reined in. Lukaku is also a threat. Powerful, direct...but there's a feeling he needs a few chances to net once. He's still evolving. Odemwingie always does well vs the Black Cats. And he's in form.
And vice-versa, how could Sunderland approach the game to mastermind victory?
CL: Johnson could be a key player for Sunderland. If he gets joy on the wing and if Fletcher gets the better of Albion's centre-halves then the Baggies might have a problem. I would have fancied Albion more had Mulumbu been fit. His omission might mean a shift in formation and a change of personnel. Not ideal.
Has any Sunderland player in particular impressed you this year?
CL: Fletcher. For the goals. And for bringing back THAT Basement Jaxx tune back into the public domain.
CL: 2-1 to Albion. Odemwingie to score. Fletcher to net an equaliser. Olsson to throw his head at a last minute corner.