TH: How do you rate West Brom’s start to the season?
RF: Well, what can I say? I think I’m an optimistic Baggie but even I would’ve laughed if someone had said that we’d be so high up the table at this point of the season. We’ve had some great wins this season against Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea but we’ve also performed against the clubs at the bottom of the table as well. I don’t think you’d be able to find an unhappy Baggie if you tried!
TH: When Steve Clarke replaced current England manager Roy Hodgson in the summer there were some doubts from Baggies fans. He has obviously turned around the opinions of those fans?
RF: I think some fans were worried the club had gone for the cheap inexperienced option but the board have been vindicated in their decision. I think sometimes teams need to take a chance and give experience to these types of managers. Steve had been assistant manager at many clubs including West Ham and had plenty of experience in the Premier League. He has now shown what he can do.
TH: What do you put your impressive start to the season down to?
RF: We have a good group of players and good strength in depth. When necessary we’ve had make changes and squad has dealt with anything that’s been thrown at them. He made some good signings in the summer and I must say we’ve been quite lucky with injuries apart from the perennially injured Steven Reid. We seem to have a lot of strikers that all seem to be able to score this season; Shane Long has continued his good form, everyone knows Odemwingie’s talent, Lukaku has been a good loan signing and we’ve had Marc-Antoine Fortune as back up as well.
TH: Steve Clarke praised the side’s style following four wins a row. Do you think it’s merited?
RF: I think the Sunderland game highlighted the style of the team. To score four goals against any team in the Premier League is great but to do it against a club such as Sunderland is all the more impressive. We also had to deal with a lot of pressure in the second half which we staved off.
TH: Do you think you keep the same pace up for the rest of the season?
RF: My heart says yes but head says no. If we remain in the European places in the New Year then I think we’ll have a chance but I expect the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham to be pushing for those spots come May.
TH: Your U18 team have been also performing well this season and you’ve got some young players in your first team. Is there anyone that stands out for you?
RF: Craig Dawson is young and played at the Olympics but hasn’t featured that much this season but I think he will soon. Kayelden Brown has definite talent as well although he hasn’t been great when he’s been out on loan. Romaine Sawyers is currently out on loan and he looks like he might make the step up. Saida Berhino is on loan at Peterborough and is scoring goals. I think he stands out the most and will be in the first team within the next year.
TH: With the squad performing so well this season do you think Steve Clarke will be busy in the transfer window?
RF: There are two schools of thought on this. Firstly, given our performance and position in the table this season, the board might save the money and keep it as it is. The other thought is that with the incentive of the bigger pot of TV money this season the board might want to make sure we finish as high up the table as possible so might give Steve a war chest come January. Who knows?
TH: Who should West Ham fans be wary of in the West Brom first XI when the club’s meet?
RF: Our strikers have been causing problems all season, Shane Long (who guys tried to sign a couple of seasons ago), Peter Odemwingie and Roman Lukaku can cause most defences trouble. They compliment each other and their link up play with the midfield will also offer difficulties for you.
TH: What’s been your opinion of West Ham this season?
RF: I think you’ve been better than many thought you’d be. You’ve come unstuck recently against Man United and Spurs and I worry that without Vaz Te and Benayoun you lack creativity. I still think you’ll be safe this season though.
TH: Which West Ham players would you have in your squad?
RF: I think Winston Reid has looked like a different player this season compared to the last time I saw him. I think Noble could work in the WBA midfield as well. Jarvis is another player I admired last season but I think you overpaid for him in the summer.
TH: What’s your prediction for both clubs this season?
RF: West Brom – 6th, West Ham – 13th