West Bromwich Albion’s brief stay in the Premier League may not be officially over yet but it was an indication that time will soon be up for the Baggies that manager Tony Mowbray’s press conference before Saturday's visit of Sunderland to The Hawthorns was dominated by talk of next season and the likelihood of Championship football.
Defeat for Albion would not seal their fate this week but with only five games to go and Mowbray’s men cut adrift of safety by nine points, victory for the Black Cats would virtually guarantee the dreaded drop.
However, the pressure will be more on Ricky Sbragia’s side than the hosts as they are only four points above the relegation zone and haven’t won away since December.
As a result, Albion could throw off the shackles of the relegation battle and play with more freedom on Saturday, although they will have to do so without one of the key attacking players, James Morrison.
The Scotland international has a heel injury which could rule him out for a few weeks.
The loss of Morrison could mean a rare opportunity for Argentine midfielder Juan Carlos Menseguez, who has impressed in the reserves since arriving on loan from San Lorenzo with a view to a permanent move at the end of the season and who scored twice in the 2-2 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Mowbray initially had reservations about the diminutive but skilful player’s ability to adapt to the rigours of English football but, after watching him deal with tough-tackling team-mate Paul Robinson’s challenges in training and still come back for more, the Albion boss believes it may be time to throw Menseguez in.
“For me he has been very unfortunate,” said Mowbray. “He is an extremely talented individual and I have seen on the training ground over the last few weeks more of an understanding of what is required in this league.
“Even in training when Paul Robinson is kicking lumps out of you, you have to understand, here you are, hello! You then either grasp it and push on or decide you don’t want any of it.
“I think you have a fair chance of seeing more of him over the next few weeks, not because of our predicament but because, in my opinion, he is becoming accustomed to feeling the contact and getting on with it, skipping over them, jumping and then going back for more. He is showing his talent that is obviously there.”
Fellow loan signing Youssouf Mulumbu could also be given his chance after completing three reserve games recently.
Mowbray has confirmed the midfielder, on loan from Paris St Germain, will be in the squad. Defender Shelton Martis and striker Roman Bednar will also be in the squad after injury.