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Northern Ireland star Gareth McAuley determined to postpone Chelsea's title party

 

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland star Gareth McAuley has set his sights on making Chelsea wait a little longer to savour title success. The Blues can become Premier League champions tonight by beating West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns, but McAuley is adamant that the Friday night fixture is not all about Chelsea with the Baggies determined to move a step closer to achieving their own ambitions this season.

While Chelsea have savoured a sensational campaign which could end with a league and FA Cup double, West Brom have enjoyed a fine season themselves even though they have not won any of their last six games.

McAuley, fellow Northern Ireland internationals Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt plus Republic of Ireland winger James McClean all played key roles as WBA climbed to eighth position in the table, securing their top-flight safety before Christmas.

And while all eyes will be on champions elect Chelsea in the televised fixture with the Blues close to claiming the title in Antonio Conte's first season as boss, Albion have their own prize in mind - cracking the 50-point mark for the first time in the Premier League. With three games left, they need five more points to do it.

"We know that Chelsea want to get the league title wrapped up as soon as possible, but we want points for our own agenda and our own reasons and it would be nice to get them against Chelsea," said McAuley.

"Despite recent results, we have had a good season but we still want to get to 50 points. That's something we haven't done before and we would like to achieve that.

"The Chelsea game is a big one for us. It's a Friday night game which will be screened live on television and Chelsea are going for the league. Night games are always good and we always enjoy playing against the top teams and pitting ourselves against them.

"We have had a few decent results against Chelsea in recent years. They are normally tight games so hopefully we can come out on the right side of this one. If that makes the title race closer, that's the way it is but our focus is on ourselves and getting a good result."

Tottenham would love a favour from McAuley and co. After losing 1-0 at West Ham last week, they are seven points behind Chelsea with just nine to play for.

Anything other than a Chelsea victory tonight would see the title race move on to Sunday when Spurs host Manchester United in the final game at White Hart Lane before developers move in.

What offers Tottenham hope is that West Brom have a good record at home to the Blues, having beaten them three times in the last five games at the Hawthorns.

McAuley is well aware, however, of the tough task the midlands outfit face, especially with Diego Costa in such a rich vein of form.

Costa netted the winner when the teams met at Stamford Bridge in December and has scored three in his last three league games.

"He is a really, really good player," said McAuley. "He is aggressive and in about you all the time and he knows how to score goals. It's always a great challenge to play against top players and he is in that category."

McAuley, now 37 and with a new one-year contract in his pocket, continues to prove himself at the top level in English football.

Revered in Northern Ireland for his heroics in his own and opposition boxes, he is respected just as much by Baggies supporters who love his commitment to the cause and his ability to score from set-pieces.

The former Coleraine ace has six Premier League goals to date this season which is more than many of the biggest names in the division.

"We work hard on set pieces and the deliveries tend to be very good. I've been lucky enough to get on the end of a few this season," said McAuley, never one to hail his own efforts. "Set pieces are a key area of the game and hopefully we can cause Chelsea problems from them."

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