Express & Star

West Brom vs Birmingham - Match preview

Steve Bruce is confident Albion are on the right track as their wait for action ends with a home derby against Blues tonight.

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 03: Brandon Thomas-Asante of West Bromwich Albion celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 1-1 during the Sky Bet Championship between West Bromwich Albion and Burnley at The Hawthorns on September 3, 2022 in West Bromwich, United Kingdom. (Photo by A dam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

It has been 12 days since debut hero Brandon Thomas-Asante lifted the ball into the Smethwick Road net eight minutes into stoppage time on a memorable Friday night against Burnley.

In the time since the Baggies enjoyed a rare free midweek following a demanding start to the scheduling this season, before an unexpected break in play nobody saw coming, due to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

For Bruce’s men it has been business as usual at the club’s Walsall training base – the Baggies trained and had an inter-squad friendly on Saturday instead of visiting Coventry – and now competition resumes against one of the manager’s former clubs.

Blues, under the new management of former Kidderminster Harriers boss John Eustace, come to The Hawthorns. The Championship table read 16th versus 21st before last night’s round of fixtures.

It is nothing new to suggest Bruce’s side have deserved far more than their sole win and six draws from eight. The boss has had plenty of time to reflect on last time out and all of the fixtures so far and he remains pleased with performance levels given the substantial change in style.

He does admit, however, that only wins will do.

“I try to break it down into chunks of 10 or 12. We haven’t played well in a couple of games I can recall, but the vast majority I’ve been pleased with where we’re going,” Bruce said.

“We obviously need to win, I get that, but I think we’re close. We’ve deserved to win two or three more than what we have.

“It’s been a totally different change, asking them to train and play how we want them to, but I believe we’re on the right tracks. I’m also wary we need to win. Because you can play alright, be really good on the eye, but we need to defend better. That’s the one thing we need to try to redress. The attacking side’s good but we can’t afford to score twice in every game to win a match. We have to get the basics right defensively.”

A flurry of draws have left Albion just a point outside the bottom four of the embryonic league table.

Bruce, who played for and managed Blues totalling almost 10 years, added: “The way we’ve played, we’ve played Burnley and Watford, gone to Middlesbrough and played well in the second half – not the first.

“Really we dominated Blackburn for large periods. The way we’ve played we’ve averaged 70 per cent possession, I know it’s not all about possession, but we’ve changed totally from the team we were four or five months ago.”

Albion will include yesterday’s new free agent signing Erik Pieters in the matchday squad tonight. Fellow new recruit Tom Rogic, signed on Monday, is not ready to feature, neither is Martin Kelly.

Bruce said of his time at St Andrew’s: “I’ve been going 40 years, nearly 10 of them were with Birmingham, I’ve always got that association and always have a look how they’re doing.

“It’s always good to play against them, I had a really, really great time there. I can’t deny that. I enjoyed playing there in the last two years of my career. I always look out for them.”