The suspicion that Nwankwo Kanu is finally becoming the player West Bromwich Albion thought they had signed a year-and-a-half ago continues to grow, as his manager Bryan Robson yesterday praised the Nigerian for his increasingly committed contribution at both ends of the pitch.
With Albion once more stalked by the spectre of relegation from the Premiership, Kanu - who joined from Arsenal for £4.5 million in July 2004 - has risen to the task of retaining his employer's top-flight status and, according to Robson, proved his dedication with another strong performance in Saturday's win over Manchester City.
There wasn't a goal - there have been only three all season - but for the first time in his career the languid striker is being praised for his desire as well as his daintiness.
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A delicious back heel released Paul Robinson to cross for Kevin Campbell's goal on the hour but throughout the win, which took Albion's points tally to eight in four matches, he was as much evident in his own penalty area as the opposition's.
In fact, Robson believes the 29-year-old is playing better than at any stage since his arrival at The Hawthorns. "He was very, very good again at the weekend," Robson said. "Not just because of his build-up play but even on set-plays.
"People say he cannot head the ball but over the last couple of months he has been excellent and marking who I have asked him to mark - sometimes their best headers of the ball. He has done it very well."
In theory Kanu's 6ft 5in stature should make him the perfect complement to Albion's aerial defence yet he has a reputation as a lazy player who prefers the more
aesthetic elements of the beautiful game.
Robson considers that opinion to be out-dated, saying: "He has been knocked by a lot of people for years about being laid back and not caring and that he should be better. But at this moment of time I don't think he would be in any better form than he is now.".
The former Manchester United and England captain is of the view that the attacker has finally come to terms with life at a more southerly end of the table than he had hitherto experienced.
He said: "He knows what it is all about with us now whereas I think he was learning about things last season, from playing with top teams to playing with a team who is going to fight against relegation.
"He works hard for the team and has got a good bond going with the boys now as well. I'm very pleased with him this season."
Robson expects hamstring victim Steve Watson and striker Nathan Ellington to recover in time for Saturday's match at Portsmouth after both were substituted against Stuart Pearce's side.
Robson exonerated City's Ben Thatcher of any blame connected to a second-half incident when the full-back smashed goal- scorer Diomansy Kamara off the pitch and into the run-off area.
The challenge angered virtually everyone in the ground at the time, as the game and the visitors' discipline deteriorated. Initially Robson had thought it serious enough to mention in his referee's report.
But after closer inspection he said he had no particular worries over the tackle in which the left-back appeared to catch the Senegalese with his arm. "I thought it was a good strong challenge," Robson said. "He was a little bit naughty with his elbow but, having said that, when I played if I had hit that tackle I would have been delighted with it.
"I have no complaints about it, thankfully my player was not injured by it. Those sort of challenges are part and parcel of the game - it's a man's game, you get on with it."
Meanwhile, the player most equipped to play that sort of enforcing role does not appear bound for The Hawthorns as the future of his former Old Trafford teammate, Roy Keane, appears to lie in Spain.
Reports emerged yesterday that Keane is on the brink of signing a six-month contract with Real Madrid, leaving Robson, who had spoken to the player about coming to the Black Country, resigned to losing his man.
"I have not heard anything," he said. "If he is off to Madrid then he's off to Madrid. With someone like Roy Keane, he will make his decision whatever he wants to do. No one is going to influence that because he is such a strong-minded lad. All you can do is give an opportunity there, it's a question of whether he wants it."
Keane's representative says the former Manchester United captain will not be making a decision about his future until tomorrow or Thursday. With Real widely tipped to win the race for the 34-year-old's signature, his representative, Michael Kennedy refused to confirm anything and described suggestions Keane had already passed a medical at Madrid as "completely wrong".