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Valerien Ismael: Every player must justify their West Brom place

Valerien Ismael insists nobody is guaranteed a place in his starting XI.

Jake Livermore (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).
Jake Livermore (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

Speaking back in October, the head coach appeared to suggest captain Jake Livermore was certain to start in central midfield despite facing competition for his place from Jayson Molumby.

And the issue of who starts in the middle of the park came to the fore again following Albion’s win at Coventry on Saturday – with youngster Taylor Gardner-Hickman shining in the role with both Livermore and Molumby suspended.

Speaking about Livermore in October, Ismael said: “Jake is our captain, Jake is my captain and the captain always has to be on the pitch,” the boss said.

“He always puts in a performance, he has a great attitude, his mentality is very important for the players on the pitch and off the pitch.”

Following Gardner-Hickman’s impressive display against Coventry, Ismael was asked if Livermore is certain to come back into the side now he has served a three match suspension.

And the Frenchman moved to clarify the comments he made earlier in the campaign.

“I said when he (Livermore) is fit but I have to add ‘if the performance is right’ as well,” Ismael said.

“There was a lot of discussion (after those comments).

“But Jake is the captain and every time he plays he puts in the performance.

“But now we have more options, that is clear.

“Taylor was an option to help us at Coventry, otherwise we needed to move Conor (Townsend) into the six-position or maybe Adam Reach.

“But we wanted to keep our strength on the left side.

“As for Taylor, it’s a good thing to know now he can play wing-back or in the six-position and he gives us more options and possibilities to have.

“But we have two sixes coming back next week so we have a good week to work and my expectation is that the performance in training and competition for the position will be good and now we have to see.”

Gardner-Hickman came through Albion’s academy as a winger.

But he was converted into a wing-back by Ismael when the Frenchman arrived at the club back in June.

And the 19-year-old, who was named man-of-the-match, said he enjoyed the challenge of playing in central midfield against the Sky Blues.

“It was good,” Gardner-Hickman said.

“It was challenging but I have played there before in my career.

“I was just delighted for the boys and delighted to play my part.

“I’m happy to play wherever the gaffer puts me, I’m happy to do a job wherever.”

Albion’s victory at Coventry ended a four game winless streak for Ismael’s side.

Asked what it meant to get back to winning ways, Gardner-Hickman continued: “It’s massive.

“We knew Coventry were a good side and in good form but we had to get the three points.

“We have had a lot of chances in the last few games but against Coventry we took them.

“We’d been working on it all week and it paid off.”

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