Date: 26th August 2011 at 7:11pm
Written by:

Tom Mckeon: Hi Craig, before we get started, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Purely because we`re really nosey here at Vital Stoke!

Craig Harris: Typical Potter nosing around, but seeing as you asked nicely? I`m a 23 year-old Journalism student, a season-ticket holder at the Albion and a match official for both the Birmingham FA and the Staffordshire FA. The only thing I love more than Journalism and Refereeing?is the Baggies!

TM: Good stuff! I think it`s fair to say West Brom have had an extremely tough start to the season, playing both Man United and Chelsea, but how do you rate your side`s performances so far?

CH: Honestly, so far we`ve held our own in both games against the supposed ‘top two`. At times we`ve even outplayed them. Already this year I`ve seen a notable improvement in our defensive game, our passing of the ball and our physicality. Unfortunately, though, we still appear to be prone to defensive errors when defending on the wings. No names mentioned? NICKY SHOREY *cough*

TM: Defensive errors when defending the wings eh? Ahh, you’re lucky our wingers aren’t up to much then 😉 Anyway, who is the WBA player Stoke fans should be watching out for come this Sunday?

CH: Anyone who doesn`t know West Brom inside out would probably mention every attacking player they can think of and don`t get me wrong, Shane Long, Peter Odemwingie and Somen Tchoyi are all capable of terrorising any defence on their day, but Youssouf Mulumbu is definitely the player that I believe Stoke will struggle with. As a defensive midfielder he finished last season as our second-top scorer; his ability to break up the play and trigger a counter attack is second-to-none. This guy is destined for big things and I`m hoping he`ll show the Potters why this weekend!

TM: Obviously, playing Stoke is never an easy task for any team, but many Baggies fans think of the Potters as their ‘bogey` team, do you see that changing on Sunday ? And how do you think the game will pan out? Score-line prediction please!

CH: Over the years this fixture has disappointed Baggies fans time and time again. But let us not forget last season at the Britannia Stadium. We gave Stoke a good game and even though the spoils were shared I think many Stoke fans would agree that we probably should have finished them off that day. Well now we`re a better team and it is well-known in the Black Country that Matthew Upson never has a good game against us. But still, it`s Stoke. There isn`t a team in the Premier League who wants to come up against them. Prediction 2-2.

TM: I don’t think you’ll be far off with that prediction. If you could pick one Stoke player to sign for West Brom, who would it be? And who is the Stoke player you’re most worried about facing WBA?

CH: Matthew Etherington. We tried to sign him in his West Ham days. What a player! As for the player that worries us the most, based on his performance in the Europa League I`ll go for Jermaine Pennant. Right now we`re not looking to great defending on the wings and he could be the player to take full advantage of that. Some of his crosses are frighteningly accurate.

TM: Stoke have had their critics over the years – but what do you make of Stoke City?

CH: A big, physical team, with quality in every position. There`s been so much hype from the media about Stoke`s physical game that their ability to get the ball down and play is often overlooked. Believe me, Baggies fans know all about it!

TM: Your thoughts on Roy Hodgson? And what do you think of our manager Tony Pulis?

CH: Roy Hodgson has been the man to finally turn us into a Premier League team. He`s a tactical genius and his experience in the game has benefitted WBA greatly since he took over this year. I genuinely believe he will be the next England manager? Deservedly so!

Tony Pulis somehow manages to maintain a ‘low profile` as a manager, despite taking a team like Stoke City into the Premier League and, more importantly, keeping them there! Personally, I believe it`s only a matter of time before a top club casts a glance in his direction.

TM: Luckily for Stoke I don’t think a big club will ever come in for Pulis, I hope so anyway! As for Hodgson, I really can’t see WBA having any problems whilst he is in charge. Finally, Where do you see West Brom & Stoke finishing this year ? And what do you think the future holds for both clubs over the next three or four years?

CH: It`s hard to say before the transfer market has closed, especially with teams like QPR preparing to spend big. However, I wouldn`t be at all surprised to see both teams finishing in the top ten.

As far as the future goes, It`s important to remember that West Brom don`t have the financial clout of other Premier League teams, or some Championship teams. Without additional financial backing we`re going to need to keep a manager of Roy`s stature at the club in order to punch above our weight. But, based on how things are going currently, there is no reason at all why we can`t establish ourselves in this league.

For me Stoke has always been an enigma. They were never known to have much money but somehow manage to pay the wages of players such as Kenwyne Jones and other high-earners. Providing Stoke has a genuine business plan to sustain such spending, I find it hard to see them dropping out of the Premier League for a very long time.

Final league positions:

Stoke: 8th

BA: 10th

TM: I’d definitely take that! Many thanks Craig, brilliant responses and it’s always interesting to know what opposition fans think of Stoke.

It certainly promises to be a very competitive game on Sunday, especially if the last match between the two is anything to go by. The encounter at the Britannia ended 1-1 with the Baggies spurning plenty of late chances to take all the spoils.

West Brom, for the first time in what must have been donkey’s years against Stoke, certainly showed signs of a team who were growing more comfortable as a defensive unit and weren’t afraid in mixing it with Stoke’s giants – perhaps the tide is finally turning in the Baggies favour when it comes to facing Stoke?

Or maybe not, after all, when was the last time they beat us? (Without Scott Dobie I mean)


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