Albion boss Gus Poyet has hailed the remarkable progress made by Albion’s master protector Liam Bridcutt.

Bridcutt makes his 100th League appearance for the Seagulls at Birmingham on Saturday with Poyet singing his praises as the best defensive midfielder in the Championship.

The 23-year-old ex-Chelsea prospect has become vital for Albion since upstaging retired former Bulgaria international Radostin Kishishev and establishing himself as a regular.

Poyet said: “He has got the ability to pass the ball and know when to play forward, when to keep it, when to do things on the ball. The improvement in the last two years defensively is incredible and now he is a key member of our squad and the way we play.

“It was difficult for him to start with, because it was him or Kishishev. We talked to them about that position and the way we play and then Liam went to another level.

“He realised that defensive position we needed to help us defend better and it got to the point where he was the player who recovered most balls for us, he is the player who understands who needs help, when to cover and when to help a fullback or centre half.

“He is always in the right position. There are not many players who understand the game like Liam does. He is the type of player you want, because you know what you get.”

The Albion players report back for training today with Craig Mackail-Smith on course to be available to face Birmingham after sitting out Saturday's 2-1 home victory against Derby because of hamstring tightness.

Poyet said: “Macca was 50-50. He didn’t train until Thursday and on Thursday he didn’t train very well, he knows that.

“He was still feeling it, then on Friday he pushed himself for 25-30 minutes of a very good session. I thought he was ready, then it was the other side of the leg.

“We checked him at 11 o’clock in the morning and together decided not to play him. The hamstring was very tight, to a point that it was a risk which we didn’t need to take, having the whole squad and so many games to play in the next few weeks. If it was a (cup) final he would have played!”

Birmingham face Leeds in their FA Cup third round replay at St Andrews tonight for the right to host Spurs in round four.

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