West Bromwich Albion have received a potentially significant injury boost ahead of their local derby with Championship rivals Birmingham City after defender Matt Clarke was declared fit enough to make a return to action.
The Brighton and Hove Albion loanee has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since the end of August when he limped off before half time in the 2-1 win at Blackburn Rovers.
And while the Baggies have carried on their good form in his absence, the return of the 25-year-old centre-back will be a big boost to Valerien Ismael’s charges.
“The rehab went really well, and I felt in myself that I could have been ready to come back before I did, but I was happy to follow the advice of the medical team who told me that the location of the injury meant I had to be patient and not return too soon,” Clarke said (as relayed by the Birmingham Mail).
“You have to give it time to settle and heal, which obviously brings a little bit of frustration, but you have to make sure you’re right.”
With fierce rivals Birmingham arriving at The Hawthorns a week on Friday, Clarke is eyeing a return to the starting XI and feels the current break will give him further opportunity to get back to match fitness.
“I feel like I’m now ready, but it’s the international break, and there are no games to play,” he added. “It does give me a chance to catch up even further in terms of fitness and sharpness, so we will see where we are when the matches return.”
Clarke is yet to complete a full 90 minutes for Albion since his arrival on a season-long loan over the summer, but the Midlands outfit have been victorious in all three of the games he’s started, leaving the manager elated that he’s set to return.
After suffering their first defeat of the campaign last time out against Stoke City, West Brom will be hoping Clarke’s comeback marks the return of winning ways and Ismael will be buzzing to have one of his first-choice centre-backs available once again.
The Baggies have been playing a back three involving Conor Townsend – a natural left-back – in recent weeks due to Clarke’s injury, and therefore, the Brighton ace’s reinstatement into the first-team setup will be a significant boost.
This term, the centre-back has won a colossal 5.7 aerial duels per game – the third-highest in the team – and has also produced 2.3 interceptions a match. That tally represents the highest in the entire Albion squad and indicates why his return to fitness is such a positive.
He’s proven himself to be an elite-level Championship defender during a previous spell with Derby County and his comeback will only enhance West Brom’s chances of a sustained promotion push.