Steve Clarke locks horns with an old friend tomorrow. But the Albion boss does not expect to see the friendly side of Mark Hughes until after the Premier League game at Stoke.
Clarke and Hughes shared a dressing room at Chelsea for three years from 1995. But the Hawthorns head coach knows the Stoke manager well enough to understand their friendship counts for nothing when their teams meet at the Britannia Stadium.
“Mark is good,” said Clarke. “Off the pitch he is a really nice guy and really quiet, but on the pitch he would have kicked your head off to win.
“He was great, but the same as in matches, in training. He was fiercely competitive but away from the action you couldn’t meet a nicer guy.
“He was fantastic. I loved playing against him and I loved it when he was in the Chelsea team as well.
“He was great for us, but against him it was always a good, strong tussle with no quarter asked or given.”
Hughes was the surprise choice to take over from Tony Pulis at Stoke this summer after a short but ill-fated tenure at QPR .
Despite seeing his friend reach the heights of Manchester City in his managerial career, Clarke believes he will now be taking things a step at a time to reignite his career.
“Mark will just be looking now to do a good job for Stoke,” said Clarke.
“You’re only ever five or six bad games away from being under pressure.
“You’re always pleased when your friends, or people you know, get a chance to work. But I was also disappointed that Tony lost his job because he is a good friend as well.
“That’s the nature of the job. One friend loses his job and another friend comes in.
“It was good for Mark that he got another chance to come in and show what he could do in the Premier League.
“Criticism comes with the job now. If you don’t get results and points, then criticism follows. It’s natural. You can’t say it’s unfair because QPR didn’t pick up enough points and Mark lost his job.”
Stoke have lost their last three Premier League matches after making a flying start to Hughes’ reign.
But Clarke is warning his side to expect a tough time at a game which the Baggies failed to win for 30 years before being unbeaten in their last three visits.
And he believes the Potters are adapting gradually from the direct footballing approach of Pulis to Hughes’ passing style.
“Our job is to go there and make sure they have only one point from five games, but I’m sure Mark has been working hard with his squad and we go there expecting a really hard game,” said Clarke.
“I can see some changes, especially in trying to play from the back, but I can also see some characteristics from last season. They are still solid defensively.
“It’s wrong to stereotype people. Tony’s teams had a way of playing that was really effective.
“But Mark is entitled to change it and is trying to have them playing from the back on the ground.
“Both games last season were awful – absolutely dreadful. If Stoke set up to win it, it could be a great game.
“We go with positive intentions to try to get three points.”