West Brom v Stoke preview
Albion head coach Slaven Bilic believes Michael O’Neill’s appointment at Stoke has helped the club rediscover its identity.
The Baggies host the Staffordshire side at The Hawthorns tonight looking to extend their lead at the top of the Championship after rivals Leeds were beaten by QPR on Saturday.
Albion and Stoke last locked horns back in November when Bilic’s side secured a 2-0 victory at the bet365 Stadium thanks to goals from Matt Phillips and Hal Robson-Kanu.
That win came just days after the Potters sacked manager Nathan Jones and left them rooted to the bottom of the Championship.
But O’Neill’s arrival has sparked an upturn in performances and results with Stoke having since hauled themselves out of the bottom three.
And Bilic believes the boss – who is managing the Potters while still being in charge of Northern Ireland – has made a big impact since his arrival.
“It’s not too different, it’s the same players,” Bilic said when asked about the differences between Stoke now and the side he faced in November.
“But the manager has done well, he did extremely well with Northern Ireland.
“He likes to make his team compact, hard to beat.
“They work hard and that goes with the name of the club – Stoke has always been like that.
“I haven’t seen a lot of changes.
“But what I have noticed is that he wants to make them more British in that positive, traditional way.
“They look like that and they seem to like that, they seem to enjoy it.”
Despite their lowly position in the table, Stoke have one of the most expensively-assembled squads in the division.
And while that means they should be competing at the top of the division, Bilic says sometimes it doesn’t take a lot for a team to fall into a bad run of form.
“Everything goes back to the confidence of individual players and the team,” Bilic said when asked what’s gone wrong at Stoke in recent years. It doesn’t take big mistakes. It can happen.
“Sometimes it’s just a bad start, just a bad start and you can also be unlucky.
“You can be unlucky in the first couple of games and then suddenly everyone expects you to have six points, but you have one point or zero points.
“And then you have two tough away games then suddenly after five games you are on three or two points without playing that bad – it just happened.
“And then – although it’s very early in the season – it’s not easy to recover.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t happen, but they are recovering, they are getting better.
“They have picked up some results, they scored five goals against Huddersfield recently away from home.
“They also have some players back, very important players.
“The squad is a Premier League squad.”
Meanwhile, Stoke boss O’Neill has revealed his side will remain compact and try and hit Albion on the counter when the two teams meet tonight.
“They’re a very good side,” the Northern Irishman said. “Obviously they’ve been top of the division since basically day one.
“They are possibly not in their best run of form, but I think that’s what happens in the Championship, teams have little lulls.
“Perhaps they’re in one at the minute – but equally they will see us as an opportunity to get moving again.
“We see it as an opportunity, albeit a very difficult one, to try to add to the points tally that we have and I think when we look away from home we have had some better performances. We go there with the intention of obviously making it difficult for them and with the opportunity to try to take three points.
“In terms of shape of the team and how they play, we will probably have to be at times a little more compact and have to defend a little bit more. We must possess a threat on the counter-attack as well.”