West Brom V Newcastle at The Hawthorns : Match Preview
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Clarke: Success hard to maintain
West Brom boss Steve Clarke has admitted it is unrealistic to think a squad the size of his could maintain their brilliant early-season form.
After collecting seven points from their first three games against Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton, this always looked likely to be an excellent season for the Baggies.
At one point they appeared live contenders for a European slot before they began to slither down the table, and they head into their encounter with Newcastle having collected just four points from their last five games.
Yet they remain on track for their highest league finish since 1981.
And, given the strength of the sides in front of them, it may be as much as any West Brom team can reasonably expect.
"If you look at what happened to us this year then no, it's probably not realistic to sustain it over a full season," Clarke said.
"It's something we have to look at. The fact is we had a really strong start and then we tailed off.
"I mentioned some weeks ago we have to look at why, in the middle block of the season, the club had a dip, in this year and previous ones."
Finding a solution to those mid-season slumps will be Clarke's priority number one for the summer.
An answer may be found in the policy of tomorrow's visitors, who beefed up their squad, although are still not clear of relegation strife.
"Maybe we need to do what Newcastle did - go into the window, bring in a couple of new faces and freshen it up," said Clarke.
"All those things are up for discussion."
Though West Brom are unlikely to haul back six points on seventh-placed Liverpool, they are looking to keep their noses in front of Swansea and Fulham, who also look set to clinch spots in the top half of the table.
They will have to try and do it this weekend without Peter Odemwingie, though, after the striker sustained a knee injury.
Meanwhile, Alan Pardew is not ready to unleash Hatem Ben Arfa fully as he attempts to guide weary Newcastle over the Barclays Premier League finishing line.
The Magpies slipped back on to the fringes of the battle for top-flight survival as a result of Sunday's unexpected 3-0 derby defeat by Sunderland three days after their Europa League quarter-final exit at the hands of Benfica.
Pardew later admitted that some of his players had simply run out of energy as a result of the gruelling demands placed upon a tight squad which has been repeatedly stretched by injuries.
However, while Newcastle head for the Hawthorns looking for a win which would all but end their fears of being sucked into the thick of the mire below them, Ben Arfa, who masterminded a 3-1 victory at the Hawthorns last season, is likely only to be involved from the bench.
Asked if the mercurial Frenchman was ready to start a game after two appearances as a substitute following his return from a troublesome hamstring injury, the manager said: "No, I don't think so.
"He's working hard. He is somebody we are trying to manage and make sure we don't lose him for the last five games.
"We are trying to manage him very cleverly and get the best out of him."
Newcastle will be without midfielders Cheick Tiote and Sylvain Marveaux for the trip.
Tiote has not trained since last weekend's 3-0 home defeat by Sunderland, during which he aggravated a hamstring problem, while Marveaux has a groin injury.
Goalkeeper Tim Krul will miss the rest of the season with a dislocated shoulder and utility man Ryan Taylor will miss the whole of the next campaign after suffering a recurrence of his cruciate ligament injury.
Skipper Fabricio Coloccini (back) has returned to training, but the game at the Hawthorns comes too soon for him.
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