Blog: Gareth McAuley is No 1 for West Brom
I can never truly decide if West Brom-free weekends are rewarding for a fan or not, writes blogger Warren Stephens.
There's the comfort of knowing you won't be clinically depressed come Saturday evening.
Yet whether you spend it in a pub, with family or meandering around clothes shops exchanging knowing glances with the other soulless passengers in there, a part of you longs for next week's fixture whilst curiously glancing at the other teams' scores.
It certainly provides an opportunity to take stock and reflect on the season as a whole, particularly with West Brom's Player of the Year awards just around the corner.
Assuming we can muster a win and a draw from our remaining six games, this season will be the club's most successful in around 30 years.
We are fortunate to have so many outstanding candidates for Player of the Year. Indeed, it's difficult not to mention the whole squad for the tremendous effort they've put in.
Ben Foster took the honours last season and has again been outstanding in goal. In an era of swerving balls where goalkeeping errors are commonplace, just ask Joe Hart.
Foster's brought a standard and consistency we just didn't have with Scott Carson.
I have lost count of the number of outstanding saves he's made and performances like the one at Anfield almost get you three points single-handedly.
Claudio Yacob's proven an immense signing, in a role so often under-appreciated he seemingly gets his foot in everywhere, can pick a pass and never over-complicates things.
Arguably only injury- a period in which results notably suffered too- prevents him from being a main contender.
Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu have proven a formidable pairing in midfield.
For me, Mulumbu could be Player of the Year every year, he's that good and his contribution is sometimes taken for granted.
Between them they're the heartbeat of this West Brom side and it's imperative we keep them together for next season.
James Morrison has also had an impressive season, he's made remarkable progress over the six years he's been at West Brom and was a prominent contender at Christmas.
However, the absence of Mulumbu and-or Yacob in some games has often led to Morrison having to play a deeper role than he prefers and his performances have levelled off slightly since then.
Romelu Lukaku has been mentioned by some as a leading contender. It's outrageous to think that he's still 19 years old given his physicality and the mature way he carries himself.
He's certainly nailed on for the young player award. Since the turn of the year he's been immense - he was unplayable at Reading and at home to Sunderland.
For me though, without minutes on the pitch, his performances were patchier in the early parts of the season and I'm still not convinced he's at his best when operating as a lone front-man.
We would certainly love him back though, let's hope that Falcao signs for Chelsea! My vote for Player of the Year would have to go to Gareth McAuley.
When he signed I remember message boards being awash with criticism from supporters who hadn't heard of him or were sceptical of his pedigree being a free transfer.
Perhaps, more amusingly, many despaired that we hadn't coughed up the money to make a big-money signing like Roger Johnson instead!
Gareth McAuley has grown and grown, perhaps the biggest compliment he can be paid is that this season he's even out-performed Mr Reliable.
Jonas Olsson, a man he's formed a solid partnership alongside at centre-back.
For me, along with Ben Foster, McAuley's been our most consistent performer over the season as a whole and now looks a seasoned Premier League defender. We saw against Arsenal that McAuley's not infallible.
Indeed, I would much rather see him winning deep headers and having team-mates close to him rather than being stretched and left one-on-one with pacey, quick-footed opponents.
But in the system we operate he's been immense. Onto the weekend which sees the visit of Newcastle United.
This is probably an unfortunate time to play them, and I don't just mean from the perspective of any local Police horses.
They suffered a crushing home defeat in a local derby last Sunday and will undoubtedly be keen to make amends.
They were one of the best teams to come to the Hawthorns last season but have failed to replicate last season's form.
The loss of Demba Ba can only be good news for Albion fans given his tendency to score against us every time he plays.
It's certainly an opportunity for Albion to register some points and I think it's fairly important that the season doesn't end with a whimper.
To my mind, the goals we conceded against West Ham and Arsenal were far too soft, it's out of character and something we need to rectify sooner rather than later.
Come on you Baggies!
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