Fulham boss Marco Silva admits he has been surprised by West Brom’s struggles during the second half of the season.
The Baggies, who host the Whites on Tuesday, were among the pre-season favourites for promotion but have dropped out of the race for the top two in alarming fashion.
Having been first at the end of September they now sit at 14th – seven points off the play-offs and a whopping 27 behind Silva’s table-toppers.
That slump cost manager Valerien Ismael his job, just six months into a four-year deal, with Steve Bruce handed the 12th managerial appointment of his long career last month.
“Nothing really surprises me in this competition because it is so tough, but if you ask me if I expected them to be in the position they are now than I would say yes, I am surprised,” Silva said.
“Apart from two or three players that were there when they were relegated, they have most of the same squad and should be one of the contenders to be near the top.
“They started really well but had a bad run and not been able to get back on track. But they will still be believing given the last 15 minutes of their game against Huddersfield, where they scored twice to draw 2-2.
“So we know we face a tough match up there.”
Bruce’s arrival has not yielded immediate results, with his team winning just one of his seven games in charge despite boasting a squad still containing most of the players that finished two points behind Fulham last season as both clubs were relegated from the Premier League.
Silva said the difficult season faced by West Brom and to a lesser degree Sheffield United, who also appointed a new manager in former Whites boss Slavisa Jokanovic before axing him mid-season following relegation, shows the tough task faced by sides that go down.
He also believes his players deserve credit for adapting so well to the rigours of the Championship and putting themselves in pole position for an instant return to the top flight.
“It just shows how difficult the competition is. You can have all the best players on paper but no-one wins any game on paper,” Silva said.
“When you are a relegated team people talk about budgets, but the reality is you have to prove ourselves from the first day.
“I am proud of the players and everyone who works at this football club. We are all fighting together.
“In football it is tough to show consistency every single match. Sometimes there are three matches in a week and our players have dealt with that in a fantastic way.
“The way we have reacted too when we have had some bad results has also been good and what you have to do if you want to be successful at the end of the season.”