Tony Pulis’ first return to face Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday could be overshadowed by the saga surrounding Saido Berahino’s West Brom future.
Pulis spent nearly a decade in charge at Stoke across two spells, managing them in three different divisions until his departure in 2013 – but this will be the first time he has gone back there as manager of the opposition.
Any sentiment attached to the occasion is likely to quickly dissipate as Albion seek to move off the foot of the Premier League table, with their early-season form also hampered by Berahino’s apparent desperation to leave The Hawthorns.
Chairman Jeremy Peace underlined the club’s desire to keep the England Under-21 international on Thursday, ruling out a departure despite the player’s transfer request and repeated offers from Tottenham.
Pulis opted not to field the 22-year-old striker in last weekend’s clash with Chelsea and could opt for a similar stance against Stoke even though it weakens his attacking options.
“There’s things going on in the young man’s head at the moment and Tony doesn’t feel as though he’s been in the right frame of mind,” first-team coach Gerry Francis told The Express and Star.
“But that’s not to say he won’t be playing at the weekend.”
If Berahino is absent the pressure will be on record signing Salomon Rondon to lead the line again, the Venezuelan impressing against Chelsea despite failing to open his own account.
Pulis will hope the hamstring injury picked up by Chris Brunt in Tuesday’s League Cup win penalty shootout win over Port Vale will not rule him out of the clash, but is definitely without Ben Foster due to his long-term knee injury.
Stoke were also given a tough test in the cup when they travelled to League Two Luton Town and they too needed penalties to book their place in round three.
Although far from ideal, there were positives from the game for Stoke boss Mark Hughes, with Bojan Krkic making his long-awaited first start since suffering a knee injury in January.
The former Barcelona forward had been limited to substitute roles since returning to training during close-season, but after playing 85 minutes at Kenilworth Road he could be given another start against Albion.
New signing Xherdan Shaqiri is expected to make his home debut after impressing last weekend against Norwich City with a 97 per cent pass completion rate and an assist for Mame Biram Diouf’s goal in the 1-1 draw.
As well as Pulis’ return to the Britannia Stadium and Shaqiri’s first home appearance, Saturday also sees a reunion with West Brom for Stoke striker Peter Odemwingie, the Nigerian hoping to recover from a hamstring injury to be able to feature against his former club.