West Brom-Sunderland Preview
LONDON (SE) - West Bromwich Albion boss Steve Clarke has refused to put forth Champions League ambitions during his side's flying start to the campaign heading into Saturday's visit to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland.
The Baggies have rocked the Premier League with three wins on the trot to rise to fourth in the table on 23 points. Last Saturday's 2-1 win over Chelsea pulled West Brom within one point of the third-placed Blues.
"I think there's obviously a feel-good factor, we're playing well, we're winning matches, we're accumulating lot of points early in the season," Clarke said. "But like I said before, our job within our camp is to keep our feet on the ground and to keep focusing on game to game.
"But as I alluded to in the programme notes today, if the supporters want to dream a little bit, maybe they can."
Clarke's rotation policy paid dividends once again as Peter Odemwingie scored the go-ahead goal in the 50th minute. Odemwingie was a substitute the previous week against Wigan Athletic one match after he scored twice in a victory over Southampton.
"I think it's something that we've been building this year," Clarke said. "We are a team, we are a good group. Anybody you put in can go in and do a good job for the team."
Forward Zoltan Gera is among the players who have bought into the manager's philosophy. Gera was also restored to the starting XI after entering the Wigan match as a second-half substitute like Odemwingie.
"I'm playing well, so if the head coach sees I can help the team he will pick me," Gera told West Brom's official website "It's no problem at all. We have a good squad with lots of good players."
The Baggies last won four straight in the top flight in September/October 1980.
West Brom have done most of their damage at The Hawthorns and are just 1-2-2 on their travels. The Baggies have won four of their last five meetings overall against Sunderland, with a 2-2 draw at the Stadium of Light last season the lone blemish.
The Black Cats ended a five-game league winless run with Sunday's 3-1 victory at 10-man Fulham. Carlos Cuellar and Stephane Sessegnon each joined Steven Fletcher on the scoresheet.
Fletcher is tied for fifth in the league with six goals. Sunderland have three other goal scorers along with an own goal.
"Hopefully we've turned the corner now and can keep it going. It was nice in the dressing room afterwards," midfielder David Vaughan told Sunderland's official website. "The lads enjoyed the win.
"Our attacking players have come in for some criticism so it was nice to see them get their goals and get some praise."
Sunderland have played seven of their first 11 fixtures away from home, with four of their next five at the Stadium of Light including Tuesday's visit by bottom side Queens Park Rangers.
"We have only played four at the Stadium of Light so we are looking forward to going back there," boss Martin O'Neill said.