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Chairman's optimism has Albion facing means test.

Byline: Michael Ward

Paul Thompson is urging West Bromwich Albion fans not to panic or despair, at the same time conceding that tonight's visit of Crewe Alexandra to The Hawthorns is the first of 14 cup finals looming between now and the end of the season.

Another vital home game follows against Portsmouth on Saturday, and chairman Thompson is unshakeably optimistic that Gary Megson's team have the means and the will to start winning again.

Albion have only the revenge victory over Sheffield United on January 20 to show for their last five league outings, a run that has yielded five points out of a possible 15.

Thompson, however, prefers to put a more positive slant on Albion's fortunes in conveying a message of encouragement to worried supporters as they reflect on last weekend's derby defeat at Birmingham City.

'We're fifth in the table and we've lost only two games in seven,' he said. 'Whichever way you look at it, we've had a terrific season and there is certainly no cause for panic.

'But we have to accept that every game is going to be a battle, and we're going to have to fight for every point. Every team we play will be striving to finish in the top six or avoid finishing in the bottom three.

'We have a strong squad, an excellent manager and a great set of supporters who will be 100 per cent behind us in the next two games, as they have been all season. We're still on course for what we want to achieve, and these two home matches give us a chance to pull some points back.'

In Thompson's view, Saturday's First Division loss to Blues at St Andrew's ranked as a clear injustice.

He said: 'I thought we were worth a draw for the way we fought back from 1-0 down. Our midfield player Richard Sneekes was held back for Birmingham's second goal - a point each would have been a fair result.'

Thompson would be prepared to sanction a final incursion into the transfer market, should the player Megson wants becomes available.

He said: 'It is still possible that we will make another signing before the deadline next month, although we have already spent pounds 5.3 million on 12 new players and I believe we have a very capable squad who will cope with the battles ahead.'

Megson spent the weekend thinking long and hard about wielding the axe for tonight's clash but decided to give the team as a whole the benefit of the doubt. But with 37 goals conceded from 32 games so far, he might take Brian Jensen out of the firing line and give a goalkeeping debut to his Portsmouth recruit Russell Hoult.

He could rest Jason Roberts and reward Bob Taylor's inexhaustible patience with a start as front-line partner to top scorer Lee Hughes.

Megson considered making wholesale changes, adding: 'I sat down and thought, 'right, who did and who didn't do what they were capable of against Birmingham?'

'I came up with six or seven players who didn't perform as they can. But if I make seven changes, we're going to have problems. We don't have the resources to take that sort of action, and we don't need to panic.'

CAPTION(S):

Russell Hoult may make Albion debut against Crewe tonight
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Title Annotation:Football
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 20, 2001
Words:556
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