Hal Robson-Kanu: West Bromwich Albion's Wales striker still believes in himself

Hal Robson-Kanu's goal against Arsenal was his first for Albion at The Hawthorns
Hal Robson-Kanu's goal against Arsenal was his first for Albion at The Hawthorns

Wales striker Hal Robson-Kanu still believes in his own ability, despite having spent most of the season on the West Bromwich Albion bench.

After the role he played in helping Wales to the Euro 2016 semi-finals last summer, Robson-Kanu was tipped to make a big impact when the free agent joined Albion on August deadline day.

But in the wake of his late arrival, he has been limited to two league starts.

"Competition for places is tough, but that's what you want," he told BBC WM.

"It's part of the reason why we've done so well. We've got a small squad, but there's really good quality within that squad. Everyone is working towards positive competition. That's what you need at this level.

"I believe in my quality. I've proved what I can do at this and international level and, when I come on, I'm confident of the impact that I'll have."

Hal Robson-Kanu scored with his second touch against Arsenal, just 75 seconds after leaving the bench
Robson-Kanu scored with his second touch against Arsenal, 75 seconds after leaving the bench

Often playing as Wales' sole striker in qualification for France last summer, the hard-running Robson-Kanu has been generally known in the past for the quality of his support play rather than his goal return.

His career tally of club goals prior to 2016-17 amounted to just 39 in nine seasons with Reading, including loan spells at Southend (twice) and Swindon.

That level of expectation changed when he scored with his classic 'Cruyff turn' against Belgium, a goal that won him the BBC viewers' vote as Goal of the Tounament.

But, so far, he has managed just two goals for the Baggies, on his first Albion start in a 2-1 win at Southampton on New Year's Eve, then Saturday's second-half strike in the 3-1 win at home to Arsenal - just 75 seconds after leaving the bench.

"It's always frustrating when you're not starting," added Robson-Kanu, who is in the Wales squad for this Friday's World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.

"But the manager will tell you I've been working my socks off in training, keeping everyone going."

Where can Albion finish this season?

With nine games of the season to go, Albion are eighth in the table, on 43 points, and have opened up a seven-point gap on ninth-placed Stoke City - but that is the the same gap that separates the Baggies from struggling Arsenal, in sixth, and Everton.

Could they, after recovering from the jolt of successive defeats, still be looking the other way?

"We're not taking our feet off the pedal," promises Robson-Kanu. "The gaffer has told us that we need to work even harder once we'd got to that 40-point mark. And this was an important win."

Of Albion's last six goals, five have been scored by centre-backs, Gareth McAuley and Craig Dawson, Saturday's two-goal hero, increasing this season's haul of 14 goals from corners, out of their overall Premier League tally of 39, in 29 games.

"We're a physical team," said Robson-Kanu. "We've dominated a lot of teams. Set-pieces come into that. And that's been a massive strength of ours."

Analysis

BBC WM's Rob Gurney

Unless they "do a Leicester City", Albion will always be overlooked by those in the so-called North West and London powerhouses. But even a cursory scratch at the surface will reveal a squad that's undoubtedly exceeding the sum of its parts, with a tremendous team ethic - just like Leicester last season - and exceptionally well-drilled by the master organiser himself, Tony Pulis.

I know he gets tired of being "pigeonholed" as 'Mr Fire Fighter - Let's Get to 40 Points As Soon As Possible', and with this group of players, Pulis has the scope to achieve his first top-10 finish, which would be just reward after more than 300 matches as a Premier League manager.

To call The Baggies 'set-piece specialists' is true - 45 of 93 goals under Pulis have been from deadball situations - but that only tells half the story. You don't score four at home against West Ham and Burnley and three against Watford, Swansea, Hull and Arsenal without being confident, creative, and pretty ruthless, which they've been in spades this season.

Seventh place might seem a way off at the moment, but don't rule it out completely just yet.

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