Clarke gearing up for vital period
West Brom head coach Steve Clarke believes the next few weeks will define his team's season.
Albion face Norwich at The Hawthorns on Saturday following back-to-back defeats in the space of five days to Newcastle and Manchester City.
With matches against Cardiff and Hull to follow, and then the busy festive period, Clarke knows this is a vital time for the Baggies to collect points, particularly after falling behind his targets.
"This is a key period for everybody (at the club)," said Clarke.
"We've had some really good performances, but haven't picked up the points we had to.
"Now we're going into a period where we've lost a couple, and that can always happen.
"When you're in a good moment you have to pick up the points, so now we're a little behind where we wanted to be which we have to address that over the next few games, starting Saturday.
"This time of year - December, January - you know after that period whether you will be fighting at the bottom or trying to chase those at the top.
"So that's what we have to do over the next few games, define where our season is going to be."
Clarke refused to concede that at this stage of the season the clash with Norwich had become a 'must-win' encounter given the form of both clubs.
Clarke added: "You can't define any game at this stage of the season. There are too many points to play for, but that's not to say it's not an important game.
"I'm sure the fans are expecting us to beat Norwich. We managed to do it last year, and this season we have to do the same.
"It was a difficult home game with them last year. We turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory, which was good for us at the time.
"Then we went down there at the end of the season when Norwich were still fighting for Premier League survival, and they turned us over 4-0, so that's still fresh in the mind."
The Canaries, however, are going through their own crisis that has placed manager Chris Hughton under severe pressure and made him the favourite as next for the sack.
Norwich face Albion following a run of five successive away defeats, conceding 22 goals - albeit playing Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Newcastle and Liverpool.
Clarke believes Hughton deserves credit for what he has achieved with City so far, but will be all too aware the scrutiny he is under at present comes with the job.
"They're a good footballing team, always 100 per cent committed, always play for their manager, so we're expecting a difficult game," added Clarke.
"For me, I think Chris has done a terrific job, but the way the game is now - you see the number of sackings in recent weeks - it's a high-pressure business.
"We know when we sit in the hot seat that is what can happen to you.
"The short-termism of the game means you could be the next one under pressure, which we all expect.
"So Chris is aware of the job and its perils, but he has a good team and a good squad of players that always play well for him."
Midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu returns from a one-match ban, although centre-back Jonas Olsson is suspended for one game after collecting five yellow cards.
Chris Hughton is prepared to turn nasty if it helps his struggling Norwich side to climb up the Premier League table.
The Norwich boss is renowned as one of football's nice guys but a crushing 5-1 defeat against Liverpool on Wednesday, in which Luis Suarez scored four goals, on the back of a 7-0 defeat against Manchester City last month, would try the patience of the most mild-mannered of bosses.
Hughton, however, takes his side to West Brom on Saturday insisting that he can ram home his message as loud and as bluntly as anyone else when required.
"It's an emotional game and there is no doubt that at moments when you need to be emotional and moments when you need to shout and criticise then I am very happy and capable of doing that," said Hughton.
"It's a man's game and you have to be prepared for that. On occasions when you need a calm head then that's what you would prefer to be if it's needed.
"If there is something that I see that I don't like to see then 'Can I shout? Can I be aggressive? Yes, of course, it's part and parcel of the game."
Hughton has no new injury worries following the Liverpool game but Norwich are still missing key personnel such as B#8m Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who is running without pain again after an obdurate toe muscle injury and could return in time for the Swansea match next weekend.
Midfielders Anthony Pilkington, Robert Snodgrass and Alexander Tettey are also out injured.
It is the fact that Norwich possess the joint-worst defence in the Premier League, having conceded 28 goals along with bottom-placed Sunderland, which is Hughton's biggest concern, along with the fact that Norwich have lost 18 of their 26 Premier League away matches since Hughton took charge.
Hughton puts down their recent problems to goals conceded at set-pieces, especially corners.
Hughton, whose side lie in 16th place just one point behind West Brom, said: "Up until a few games ago we had defended them well but a high percentage of goals in the game come from set-plays and when you concede it is usually about somebody getting across somebody with someone's individual responsibility not as good as it should be. It is something which has hurt us in the last two away games and we have to make sure to tighten that up.
"We can keep trying. There is not one away game that we have gone into this season when we didn't think we could get something from the game. There is definitely no feeling of 'Let's limit the amount we are going to get beat here'. It's always going into a game with a game plan to get something from the game.
"We have to find the solution and we are working hard. We need to be more concentrated. In the last few games away from home, and it was certainly like that against Liverpool, every mistake they capitalised on. We're going through a period where every mistake we make is being pounced upon.
"The only way to bounce back is to continue to work hard and believe in what you do."