We’re delighted to welcome former West Brom striker Kevin Phillips as our exclusive columnist. Each week he’ll be giving his views on the biggest talking points at The Hawthorns…

Kevin Phillips has backed Slaven Bilic’s decision to continue omitting Kieran Gibbs from his starting line-up despite the West Brom left-back being available to play again.

Gibbs, 31, was handed a three-match ban for violent conduct in West Brom’s 5-2 defeat at Everton last month and went on to be suspended for games against Chelsea, Brentford and Southampton.

Although he was available to play against Burnley last week, Bilic left the ex-Arsenal left-back out of his matchday squad while on Monday evening, he was an unused substitute for the 1-1 draw away at Brighton.

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Conor Townsend has started every match at left-back since Gibbs’ red card at Goodison Park and last week, Bilic said that the 31-year-old must prove himself in training before returning to his starting line-up [Birmingham Mail].

Ex-West Brom striker Phillips believes that is good man-management by Bilic and claims that Townsend, 27, has more than deserved his place in the starting line-up.

“It’s a statement of intent,” Phillips told West Brom News.

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“Just because it’s Kieran Gibbs who’s done what he’s done and got experience, it doesn’t give him the given right to come straight back in. Bilic has opted to go for Townsend there and he’s a good player.

“No one is guaranteed a place and I think that’s good man-management. Sometimes when you’re a player and an experienced player comes back, they put them straight back in. You kind of question the reasoning behind it: ‘Is it just because of who he is and where he’s been?’

“Sometimes you have to earn that right to get back into the team and also you’re testing the player to see what sort of qualities they’ve got and whether they’re going to knuckle down and work hard.

“It’s a good bit of management. We know what Gibbs can bring to the squad but it’s good to see Townsend getting the opportunity.”

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Townsend hasn’t done terribly bad since Bilic brought in the former Scunthorpe left-back to make his Premier League debut against Chelsea last month.

The 27-year-old was a bit at sea in the 3-3 draw versus Frank Lampard’s side and was hardly convincing against Southampton either but we have seen an improvement from him in recent matches against Burnley and Brighton.

We were worried about the left-back position ahead of the new season due to Gibbs’ poor injury record in the Championship and Townsend’s lack of Premier League experience.

When January comes around, it would still be wise for West Brom to strengthen that area of the squad if they can because Gibbs has been way too unreliable over the last 12 months and Townsend’s shown that he struggles against some of the Premier League’s stronger sides.

In other West Brom news, Steve Madeley has shared an update on the money Barcelona owe the Baggies for Louie Barry.

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