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Steve Bruce hails ‘classy’ Erik Pieters on full West Brom debut

Steve Bruce felt ‘classy’ full Albion debutant Erik Pieters has shown he will be a big player for the club.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17: Marcelino Nunez of Norwich City and Erik Pieters of West Bromwich Albionduring the Sky Bet Championship between Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion at Carrow Road on September 17, 2022 in Norwich, United Kingdom. (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).
NORWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17: Marcelino Nunez of Norwich City and Erik Pieters of West Bromwich Albionduring the Sky Bet Championship between Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion at Carrow Road on September 17, 2022 in Norwich, United Kingdom. (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

The Baggies put in an improved display to draw 1-1 at second-placed Norwich in the Championship on Saturday, but just a point leaves them 21st and only out of the relegation zone on goal difference for the international break.

Amid pressure, Bruce is expected to remain in charge until at least the next fixture at home to Swansea in a fortnight.

One of his calls at Carrow Road was to make four changes from the side that flopped against Blues last Wednesday. Bruce handed full debuts to experienced free agent defender Pieters, 34, and striker Brandon Thomas-Asante.

“Well I thought Erik showed a bit of class, I have to say,” Bruce said of former Stoke and Burnley left-back Pieters.

“Somebody who is 34 years old, I don’t know when the last time he played 90 minutes.

“You could see his fitness levels, he looks after his self, been training with us for six weeks.

“I’m delighted we gave him a contract, he deserved it, (after) today, he’ll be a big player for us.”

Bruce revealed Pieters is capable of filling in at centre-half, with Kyle Bartley left out in Norfolk after his derby nightmare and Semi Ajayi and Kean Bryan injured.

“He can. He has played in there, it’s given me food for thought,” the manager said. “His versatility is one of the things.

“The one thing is that he’s trained for six weeks, you look on paper and think ‘34...’ but I went to Birmingham when I was 36 – it’s how you look after yourself, deal with yourself, how you are.

“He’s not missed a training session since he’s been here, for six weeks. He deserves his contract. It’s something to start with. I’ve known him from up in Cheshire, and it’s something he wanted.”

Albion’s latest draw, a seventh in 10 league games this season, leaves them in the startling position of 21st in the second tier following just a sole victory.

Despite a much-improved performance on the road, Bruce is well aware the record and run of form is far from good enough and on Saturday evening claimed if things do not improve his head is on the chopping block. It is thought, though, the manager will be given the first few fixtures following the international break to address the alarming lack of wins as Bruce maintains his belief there is enough in the majority of performances for a drastic turnaround in fortunes.

“When the winter draws in, I’m convinced we’ll be there or thereabouts,” Bruce said.

“I know it’s a hard job, but big decisions have cost us. Ultimately, if we don’t win games, I get my head chopped off. The big key decisions, you need to get right – their goal, and the penalty, have cost us. I’m being genuinely honest.”

“We’ve responded in the right way (from Blues). We might have to go into the international break in the bottom three, which is absolutely bonkers considering how well we’ve played.”

Albion just avoided the bottom three as rivals Middlesbrough failed to win elsewhere.

Dara O’Shea headed the Baggies a rare lead in Norwich. The visitors were denied what looked a clear penalty before Sam Byram’s second-half equaliser, which Bruce was adamant was a handball.

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