Gareth McAuley has hailed West Bromwich Albion heroes at both ends of the field after the victory over Crystal Palace.
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The Northern Ireland centre-half headed the killer late goal that sealed Albion’s third win in a seven-game run that has brought only one defeat, confirming them as one of the Premier League’s in-form teams.
And he paid tribute to his fellow scorer Saido Berahino for underlining his huge potential by breaking a scrappy deadlock – justification, if any were needed, of why he is about to receive a new contract.
“We keep telling him to keep shooting,” McAuley said. “He’s getting himself in situations and maybe last season he wasn’t shooting. He would have tried to look for a pass. He’s getting his shots off now and getting his rewards for it.
“He’s a good lad. We don’t want to build him up too much and put a lot of pressure on his shoulders. He’s doing that himself with his performances and getting headlines and goals. That gives him the belief and confidence that he can do it in the Premier League.
“He has worked really hard and it’s up to us to keep him that way and keep him progressing. We need to take his potential and turn him into top-class potential.
“He had the injury last season and got his head right during that. Through the summer, he worked really hard and was flying in pre-season. Now he’s getting his rewards.
“He realises that the hard work he has done has moved him up a level into the first team and he’s hungry to stay there. That’s nice to see from a young player. The contract is good for him. To be fair, he has kept his head down and let his football do the talking. That’s important. It shows a level head and a maturity in such a young player.”
McAuley is joint second leading scorer behind the six-goal 21-year-old, having also nodded a late equaliser at Fulham in September.
But it’s Albion’s impressive goals-against record that gives him more cause for satisfaction.
The side have kept four clean sheets in League and Cup this season after containing Palace’s moderate efforts – a good record considering they have already faced Arsenal twice, Liverpool, Manchester United and Everton.
And he believes the calm competence of Boaz Myhill, the stand-in for injured second-choice England keeper Ben Foster, has been a big factor behind the miserliness.
“He’s a great keeper and great to have around the place,” he added. “He’s full of life and has loads of experience which helps as well. He’s been fantastic in the games and really settled in.
“He has got a few clean sheets under his belt. If we keep winning games, it will be difficult for anyone to get back into the team, never mind Ben when he comes back.
“It’s not my call but Boaz has been fantastic for us. He has made saves when he has needed to. He’s in possession at the moment and doing very well.
“We were off the pace at Liverpool and had no real intensity to our game and getting back to a clean sheet is always nice.
“We have a number of players with Premier League experience. There’s a know-how to staying in games and winning games.”
Albion head coach Steve Clarke has declined to engage in public discussion surrounding Foster’s looming return to fitness following two and a half months on the sidelines with an ankle injury but has previously said that Myhill could provide him with a dilemma by playing well.
He has also repeated his belief that Berahino is still too raw for the England call-up that some are suggesting for him.
But he was happy that his side had shrugged off any lingering Anfield blues by edging an uninspiring contest.
“You would have it wasn’t the best performance or a good game,” he said. “It couldn’t have been a great spectacle and I can’t say I was getting excited or too enthusiastic about it.
“But they are a good group of players and they know how to win in the Premier League. If we have to sacrifice the performance to win, then that’s what we have to do.”