Belfast Telegraph

Countdown to Euro 2016: Gareth McAuley's ready for fight to be centre stage at West Brom

By Steven Beacom

Gareth McAuley was gutted to miss out on West Brom's victory over Arsenal.

The Northern Ireland defender's red card late on against Manchester United at Old Trafford a fortnight before meant that he was suspended for last weekend's 2-1 win over the Gunners.

In came Sweden star Jonas Olsson to partner McAuley's Northern Ireland team-mate Jonny Evans at the heart of the defence and they combined well to help the Baggies earn an important three points.

McAuley is free from suspension for Sunday's Premier League clash at West Ham, and while he should return to the starting line-up, Olsson's display has given boss Tony Pulis much to ponder.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill will be taking a keen interest in Albion's team at Upton Park as he wants McAuley (left) and Evans to play as much together as possible in central defence ahead of the Euro 2016 finals.

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Evans was impressed by Olsson, insisting that fierce competition for places will improve the WBA team.

"I thought Jonas played really well. He was excellent," said the ex-Manchester United ace.

"Arsenal are a very good side who like to move the ball quickly, so to come into the team and be up to the speed of the game instantly was admirable. He is a very intelligent player and he coped with their attacking threat very well.

"It's good to have competition for places, not just in defence but all over the pitch. That helps push the squad on."

Olsson would relish facing the Hammers, but admits the quality of McAuley may see him sit out Sunday's match.

"Gareth has done ever so well since he came to the club and he has done well this season. For Sunday we will see how the gaffer sets up," said the Swede.

Pulis will be without Northern Ireland left-back Chris Brunt for the game with Slaven Bilic's outfit.

After McAuley's one-game ban, Brunt is now suspended having collected his fifth booking of the campaign against Arsenal. West Brom will miss Brunt's deliveries from set-pieces - they have created several goals for the Baggies this season.

195 Days to go

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