If results go West Bromwich Albion's way tonight, they will end the day at the top of the Coca-Cola Championship with a goal difference exceeding that of every other team.

Sounds familiar? That was pretty much the state of affairs at the end of February but Albion, beautiful yet idealistic, revealed their vulnerability and somehow finished the 2006-07 campaign in fourth position. The scars are still healing.

Now, as they prepare to face the match away to Bristol City, they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and the opportunity to prove that a team can actually be stronger for the loss of its so-called best players.

Tony Mowbray, the Albion manager, is still not smiling but one can see the hope in his eyes.

Albion's 4-0 victory at home to Ipswich Town on Saturday, achieved with the type of finishing that would have graced the Premier League, was an indication that the auguries are good.

There is no longer the soft centre that dogged Albion towards the end of last season. There is a more three-dimensional look about the team; the marriage of style and strength, with plenty of hard work thrown in.

Ipswich performed well in the second half and, perhaps against the Albion of last season, would have made the scoreline closer than it was.

It will be tougher for Albion at Ashton Gate against Bristol City, who have begun the season well and secured an emphatic 3-0 victory away to Coventry City, who were the leaders prior to that.

The Championship table does not mean much these days, of course, but a pattern is already developing, with Albion and Watford, two of the pre-season title favourites, already looking comfortable in the higher regions.

Carl Hoefkens, the former Stoke City defender, is winning his battle against injury and is likely to make the starting line-up at right back.

The Belgium international originally sustained shoulder damage while representing his country last week. He was able to play for Albion against Ipswich but then aggravated the injury.

"I am not anticipating that Carl will struggle," Mowbray said.

Mowbray has no other fresh injury problems and is likely to keep an unchanged team, which would mean a place in the starting line-up for Ishmael Miller, the striker on loan from Manchester City, who has been a revelation since moving to The Hawthorns and has already scored twice this season.

He suffered cramp against Ipswich but is slowly coming to terms with the demands of regular first-team football.

"Ishmael has played a lot of reserve-team football over the years," Mowbray said, "and it is a notch up in intensity for him to be playing first-team football at this level."

Mowbray has urged his players to perform tonight in the manner that has made them so effective at The Hawthorns, where they have a 100 per cent record so far this season. If there is a storm, and Albion can weather it as well as they did in the second half against Ipswich, then a successful evening is conceivable.

For Bristol City, David Noble, Enoch Showunmi and Steve Brooker all remain sidelined, while Cole Skuse, the midfield player, looks set to continue his recovery from a dead leg.