WBA season review
There were huge question marks over Steve Clarke when he was named as Roy Hodgson's successor in the West Brom hot-seat - but the Scot has silenced his doubters in style, says Simon Wilkes
Last Updated: 24/05/13 6:46am
With Steve Clarke entering his debut season as a top-flight number one, some pundits tipped West Brom for a season of struggle in 2012/13 despite finishing 10th and 11th in their previous two campaigns.
The Scot welcomed his former employers Liverpool to The Hawthorns for his opening game - and oversaw a 3-0 win over Brendan Rodgers' Reds.
It was a tale of two strikers on that day, with on-loan striker Romelu Lukaku coming off the bench to net Albion's third goal after Peter Odemwingie - the centre of a farcical bid to engineer a January move to QPR - made it 2-0.
Lukaku and Odemwingie went on to hog most of the headlines for the rest of the season, with the former driving Albion's unexpected bid for Europe, and the latter driving himself to Loftus Road on transfer deadline day.
Player of the Year
If you just watch Goals on Sunday, Lukaku would be the outstanding contender for this category, with his 17 Premier League goals and powerhouse performances having constantly caught the eye. But the fans' and players' player of the year is centre-back Gareth McAuley, who has grown in stature this season, taking over from Jonas Olsson as Albion's most influential defender while chipping in with three league goals. McAuley, a free transfer, has been integral to Albion's frugality in the goals conceded column - and fans are far more fearful of losing the services of the Northern Ireland international than Lukaku's imminent departure, with the 33-year-old out of contract in June 2014 and yet to agree a new deal.
Ratings Player of the Year
Lukaku bags the top rating from our reporters after averaging 7 over 35 games, and the Belgian adds a different dimension to Albion's attack thanks to his pace, power and finishing prowess. Goalkeeper Ben Foster gets his hands on the readers' top rating, though, after scoring 6.5 over 30 games, during which time he provided a rock-solid last line of defence for the Baggies.
Breakthrough Player of the Year
Take a bow Billy Jones. The Shrewsbury-born full-back arrived, like McAuley, on a free from Preston, and has flourished under the tutelage of Clarke, who played predominantly as a right-back during his playing career. Jones has battled with Steven Reid for the right-back slot this season, but has now made it his own having made 24 starts in the Premier League. The 26-year-old offers an attacking outlet on the right flank as well as being rock-solid in the tackle, and could be Albion's first-choice right-back for many years to come.
Signing of the Year
Claudio Yacob, another free-transfer capture arranged by Dan Ashworth before he was snapped up by the FA, has been immense in his debut season for Albion, fast becoming a fans' favourite. The Argentina international arrived from Racing Club after Clarke liked the look of what he saw on a DVD compilation - and Yacob formed an almost impenetrable midfield shield with Youssouf Mulumbu, offering the back four some much-needed protection and winning possession for his more creative midfield colleagues with the minimum of fuss. Clarke has suggested Yacob and Swansea striker Michu are the two signings of the season - and it's hard to argue having seen both players take to English football like ducks to water.
Could do better
It has been a good job McAuley has stepped up to the plate this season, as Jonas Olsson has had a poor one by his own high standards from previous years. QPR had a bid for the 30-year-old rejected in January, but thoughts of a move to the capital clearly turned his head as his performances dipped in 2013, when Albion's overall form also suffered (their league record is Won 4 Drawn 4 Lost 10). It will be interesting to see if the Swede stays or goes this summer as he reportedly has a clause in his contract naming six clubs - all believed to be London based - he can join if the price is right.
Steve Clarke has done a fantastic job in his debut season, continuing the fine work done by Roy Hodgson on the pitch and handling his off-the-pitch duties with authority and class. He ensured the club handled Peter Odemwingie's QPR farce and Twitter outbursts with dignity and professionalism, while also overseeing a huge improvement in the form of several Albion players. Clarke also proved he has an eye for a player after spotting the potential of Lukaku and Yacob, so the club are in safe hands for the coming years.
Jamie Redknapp's view
When Roy Hodgson steered West Brom to 10th last season I wondered how the club would build on that success, but Steve Clarke has come in and they've had a brilliant campaign. They got off to a fantastic start and, despite taking a few beatings recently, have kept going well. Romelu Lukaku has been their star man and they are going to miss him next year if he goes back to Chelsea. They need to have a go at getting him on loan again or signing him because he will be tough to replace. These are interesting times at West Brom, though. Steve Clarke has set the bar high this year and there will be expectations on them next season.
Fan's view (Joseph Chapman)
Another season of progress, but not without its controversy. Clarke proved his credentials throughout the Odemwingie saga, while Yacob proved a bargain. Excellent seasons from Lukaku and McAuley, but the second half of the campaign didn't fulfil the promise of the first.