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Raven fights to win back team place.

ALBION defender Paul Raven is battling to avoid becoming the club's forgotten man.

The 27-year-old centre-back who enters his testimonial year at The Hawthorns next season, is working to shake off the calf injury that has sidelined him for nine months.

And it will be the middle of next week before he is able to train with the rest of the first team.

Currently training alone with the club's new physio Nick Worth, Raven said:

"It's been a bit disappointing to have the whole summer off and still not be 100 per cent. But the calf of late has responded as well as it's ever done to treatment so I hope to join in with the rest of the lads soon.

"When I do it will be a huge relief."

Raven originally pulled the muscle on October 15 in the glamour Coca-Cola Cup clash with Liverpool.

He said: "I was marking Robbie Fowler and Karl Heinz Reidle and they don't hang about.

"I thought I'd be out for three weeks at the very most.

"The whole thing's been disastrous for me really.

"Things were going so well.

"If I'd been told back then that I'd be out for the rest of the season I'd never have believed it.

"It was a bad time to happen as I'm at that age where I'm approaching the top of my game, and it was very frustrating to miss so much of the campaign.

"It would have been nice for me to come back and have the club still at the top of the table."

"But it's a new season now and I'm looking forward to it."

Raven will face stiff competition from Albion's five other centre-halves when he approaches fitness.

Matt Carbon, Sean Murphy, Paul Mardon, Darryl Burgess and Tony Dobson are all vying for the two or three spots in the first team.

And Raven will miss the start of the Denis Smith's intensive fitness programme in Oxford next week as well as the first friendly at Worcester on Tuesday night.

"I don't necessarily see myself as being at the back of the queue because of the injury," says Paul, who was signed by Brian Talbot in March 1989 from Doncaster Rovers for a bargain pounds 150,000.

"I'm only a few days behind the rest of the lads and there's no reason why I can't make that up.

"Last season I couldn't do anything about it, but I prefer all the competition when I'm 100 per cent fit.

"I've been here too long to start worrying over not getting a game."

Raven revealed talks had already begun on fixing up a testimonial at the Baggies - "I'm hoping to kick something off in March" - but he jokingly ruled out a game against his former club, now in non-league obscurity.

"That'll cost me money!" he said, "but it's sad to see what has happened to the club."

Raven was signed as a 14-year-old on associate forms staying for four years at Belle Vue before leaving as a first-year professional.

The club's youth team - including Brian Deane, Mark Rankine and Rufus Brevitt - even got to the final of the FA Youth Cup where they faced Alan Miller's Arsenal.

Albion fulack Paul Holmes was also a product of the Doncaster youth policy.

Raven believes the Baggies could benefit from an older head in their push for the play-offs next term.

He said: "The squad obviously needs strengthening. A few of the old faces have now left in Bob (Taylor), Andy (Hunt) and Ian (Hamilton), but we have a lot of players at a good age.

"We could probably do with one or two experienced players to come in and help steady the ship.

"Last season we had a terrible time after Christmas, though we showed our potential late on.

"We did the double over Sheffield United and they got to the play-offs which proves something must be wrong.

"It's consistent runs that win you promotion and we've missed out on them for the last five or six years.

"Until we get that, we won't do as well as we can."
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jul 12, 1998
Words:685
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