Tommy Elphick is emerging from the first crisis of his Albion career.

He goes into today’s showdown with Leeds as the bedrock of a back four yet to concede a goal in open play in 180 minutes under Gus Poyet.

It is quite a contrast to what went before this season, when below-par performances and goal-spewing errors left Elphick, 22, facing a real test of character.

The centre half suddenly found himself in unfamiliar territory, a barren landscape lacking the plaudits and rave reviews his form had previously warranted.

He never lost faith in his own ability and, with the support of those closest to him and a maturity beyond his years, Elphick has found the exit from a dark tunnel into a ray of light.

He said: “It’s been up and down but in my mind I know when I am playing well. I’ve got a sort of rhythm to my game and I feel like I’ve had that rhythm but I’ve just been slipping up and getting punished for it.

“It’s been quite harsh and you look at yourself and think what can I do more? You just come in and work hard and I have never had doubt in my mind that I have lost any sort of potential or ability. I am a bit stronger than that.

“If you strip off all my attributes and everything I have got to my game you are still left with someone who has got plenty of heart and who does try 100%. Any man who gives you that is, I think, worth their corn.

“It has been a tough few weeks for me personally but it is about coming out the other side.

“Every centre half in their career is going to have a little patch like that. I’m no different.

“Look at Rio Ferdinand at the moment? He’s not having the best of times but he would never doubt himself. People stick by him. He is one of the best centre halves in the world.

“Jamie Carragher is another one who has not had such a good time this year. Liverpool have lost a lot of games but he is there week in, week out. He’s not hiding. It’s people like that I look up to – who don’t shy away from the challenge.”

The dramatic transformation in Albion’s defensive fortunes since Poyet’s appointment is not pure coincidence.

There has been plenty of unseen endeavour on the training ground before, in-between and since the wins against Southampton and Wycombe Wanderers.

Elphick said: “We’ve done a lot of defensive work with the back four and also the midfield two in front of us.

“We keep saying it is a team thing and he (Poyet) has sort of exaggerated that. We have become more solid as a team.

“There had been individual errors as well. Every training session now is an hour and a half, the length of a game, and a lot of it is on the concentration side of things.”

Elphick approaches today’s test against the table-toppers with renewed optimism that Albion can cope with the obvious threat posed by Jermaine Beckford in particular.

He said: “Southampton had a great strike force as well (Rickie Lambert and David Connolly). We will be as prepared as we can be. We will be solid again, hopefully, and looking to get another three points.

“We haven’t conceded now in open play for two games and that is good for your confidence, especially when you have been in a little downward curve in your career.”

Elphick comes from solid footballing stock. Dad Gary was a centre half for Stoke, older brother Gary likewise briefly for Albion.

They have helped the youth team product through his dip in form, together with the likes of room-mate Nicky Forster and Martin Hinshelwood, who kept faith with him for the first FA Cup tie at Wycombe when in caretaker charge.

Elphick said: “I surround myself with good people. Not only my family and friends but people around the training ground.

“I’ve been with Hinsh a long time. Before the Wycombe game he came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to play you, because I know everything you do is genuine’.

“It’s people like that, my dad, my brother and Fozzy, who is always on the phone, but sometimes you need to be on your own as well.

“It can be frustrating, people keep talking about your mistakes, but hopefully I am in the process now of coming out the other side.”