Why West Brom Shouldn’t Abandon Their Footballing Principles


It become an almost weekly occurrence throughout the season.

After each and every defeat Tony Mowbray, West Brom’s beleaguered manager, has been forced to batter away suggestions from the baying press that his side should change their style of play in order to compete in the division.

You can see where the journos are coming from. Every week the Baggies are praised for their pretty passing but with no end product they have nearly always ended up on the losing side.

They appear to be stuck in a kind of footballing purgatory. Too good for the Championship, they sauntered to the League title last year, but consistently get found out at the top level.

The success of Stoke in particular has only increased the pressure on Mowbray to swallow his pride and change tactics. Pre-season favourites for relegation, Tony Pulis’ side have comfortably staved off the drop with a bruising and direct style of play. This is despite appearing to have a weaker squad on paper and finishing below West Brom in the Championship last year.

Similarly the success of Bolton, who have been in the Premier League for seven years, has led to a number of sides in the bottom half of the league adopting their direct, set-piece heavy (but ultimately successful) style of play.

At first I believed Mowbray’s stubbornness was cutting his nose of to spite his face – his refusal to buckle under the pressure and sticking to his guns was also condemning his side to the drop.

But on the occasions I have watched his side this season I have begun to share his belief that his team are close to being a very good side. They actually pass the ball better than most of the sides in the division but that fateful combination of failing to convert chances at one end and poor defending at the other has consistently let them down.

The game at Spurs last weekend was a microcosm of their entire campaign. Pretty on the eye, West Brom carved out half a dozen chances but couldn’t stick the ball in the net. Spurs’ Jermaine Jenas, however, showed the extra composure and quality required at this level to break Baggie’s hearts yet again.

Who knows what difference Kevin Phillips would have made this year?  The former Sunderland man grabbed 24 goals for Albion last term and won Championship Player of the Year. But The Baggies’ refusal to offer him a new contract saw him jump ship to Birmingham, who will replace West Brom in the Premier League next season. It is clear a predatory striker in Phillips’ mould is needed to feed off Mowbray’s industrious midfield.

It is also obvious that in the defence naivety, poor organisation and individual errors have cost them dear. Keeper Scott Carson’s confidence appears to be shot and clearly hasn’t recovered from his horror show for England against Croatia in November 2007.

The likes of Leon Barnett and Gianni Zuiverloon are not of Premier League standard while the lack of organisation is surprising considering it was one of the characteristics Mowbray was renowned for as a player.

Sadly the writing is on the wall for West Brom this season; only a miracle can save them now. But I hope Mowbray sticks to his guns and can bring them back up with a flourish; it would be just rewards for his bravery and single-mindedness.

By choosing to play such an expansive style of football his side were always leaving themselves open and exposed. With the financial oblivion of relegation proving to be a recurring nightmare for many a Premier League club’s board, it is perhaps not a surprise that so many teams now set out first and foremost to avoid defeat, playing direct and narrow, rather than to pass a team to death.

Anyhow a change in style would sit uncomfortably with the players and fans, who expect a certain brand of football. The fact that the majority of supporters are backing Mowbray, despite the inevitable drop down a division, points to that.

Roy Hodgson at Fulham has shown how Premier League success can be achieved without sacrificing your style of play – albeit with considerable investment. If the club can somehow supply Mowbray with the funds to purchase a goal-scorer and a reliable centre-back pairing (admittedly something that is easier said than done) I believe the Baggies can return to the top table of English football and prosper.

If not, then the Baggies will be boinging up and down the divisions for some years to come.

9 thoughts on “Why West Brom Shouldn’t Abandon Their Footballing Principles”

  1. Hello Tom, superb read mate. As a baggies fan myself I feel I agree with lot of what you say, I feel we are only 3/4 players away from being a decent outfit, our downfall was not letting Phillips go as much as not signing someone to replace him!


  2. West Brom do play a relatively attractive brand of footie. Getting back up into the Prem is difficult right after one season. However since most of the players on West Brom are “Championship” players, I think West Brom have a good shot at making the bounce back after just one year.

    They are in a much better position to be back up than an outfit like Boro or Newcastle, which may well have to resort to fire sales if they make the drop.

  3. … Premier League success can be achieved without sacrificing your style of play – albeit with considerable investment.

    There you have it — keep the philosophy, get better players.

  4. You do go to the games yes? I have to question it.

    “Keeper Scott Carson’s confidence appears to be shot and clearly hasn’t recovered from his horror show for England against Croatia in November 2007.”

    Actually he has made some mistakes, but then there are plenty of premiership keepers that have made morethis season and have not made his fine saves.
    He has suffered from having the most indecisive defence in front of him. He will still be one of the best English keepers for years to come.

    “Leon Barnett and Gianni Zuiverloon are not of Premier League standard”

    Barnett is inexperienced and has made too many individual mistakes, but he is young and learning and I still think he could become an excellent player. Zuiverloon was arguably the best Albion player at the start of the season and has been performing well in the last few weeks, but he suffered mid season with a poor drop off in form, perhaps again due to his youth and inexperience, getting used to his first season in English football. i suggest to you that he will be long term fiture in our side or will be in another premiership side, this attack on him is utterly unjustified.

    Phillips missed loads of games this season for Birmingham, under the rigours of the premiership that would have been worse. And his recent record in the top flight where things are quicker has been very poor. Nonetheless he wouldhave been a useful squad player. interesting to see if he stays at Birmingham for next season, frankly I doubt it. What was needed was a predatory striker to score goals. We didn’t have it and didnt seem willing to pay the money required to acquire one or the wages to keep one. what was alos needed was a strong fast forward along side that who had potential to improve over the course of the season, we had that in Miller, his absence over most of this season is arguably our biggest miss of the season, we certainly had no one to replace him.

    Anyway if if we have to resort to game after game of boring football with long hoofs, physical challenges, cheating and no skill count me out. I’m not paying the considerable amount of money to watch total boring rubbish even if it wins, if that’s what it takes to make it in the greed league, I for one would rather not be in it.

  5. Thanks for the comments guys, always useful,

    RE: Jonathan, I am not a West Brom fan but have watched them a number of times this season to get a decent impression of how they have performed. I never said Carson hasn’t got the potential to be a decent keepe – but he still makes a number of indivdual and costly errors, perhaps a season away from the ‘spotlight’ of the EPL will help him rediscover his form/confidence?

    Re the defence, the stats speak for themselves and in my opnion when I have seen the defence, it has always looked shaky, maybe is is inexeperience and naivety as you say and they will improve with age and experience?
    Though I have to point out the article was never intended as an ‘attack’ on West Brom, frankly it’s the opposite, praising them for sticking to their guns.

    Yes, Phillips may have stuggled to cope at this level, but we both agree a ‘predatory’ striker is what was needed. Even 5 or 6 importnat goals could have gained you some vital points, after all you are not that far away from safety.

    Unfortunately like everything nowadays It comes down to money, the club aren’t prepared to risk their future by heavily investing (look at the likes of Charlton and Norwich as a warning) the other option is to play the stifling, stoic aggresive style of play that may secure safety with ‘lesser’ players, but wouldn’t go down well with fans like yourself.

    By choosing to keep to the same style of play it will take a few relegations/promotions before you eventually stick around, but because you aren’t overspending you can cope witht the loss of tv money (unlike most of the teams in the Premier League)

  6. Zuiverloon not Premiership quality. To me this guy seems to have al of the attributes to play right at the top end. After the first 6 games I was worried Man Utd would snap him up come Jan or end of season. Sadly that form didn’t continue, although that could be good for Albion, we will have by far the best full back outside the Premier League next season when he settles in.

    Barrnett – Still needs to learn and Premiership is veryu harsh, same with Ryan Donk.

    Philips was offerd a one year deal, with a trigger for a 2nd year if he played 19 games (even as a sub). The fact he turned it down suggested that he wasn’t up for it.

    I don’t think we have been far away, bad defending has been the problem. I can’t remember seeing may brilliant goals or where a worlsclass player has openned us up. Generally it has been truely awful defending which would be punished at every level. If this continues next year we will still have problems.

    That said Meite has only played 16 games this season, whilst he hasn’t excelled himself, his experience for the whole season alongside Ollson (who missed 6 weeks with injury) would have vastly reduce the defensive problems.

    There is hope for next season and in fact for the three remaining games.

  7. Good shout but it really doesn’t have to be either Stoke,Bolton or pure footie. It should be a compromise of the two. As an Albion man of course I want to see us play the beautiful game but I also want to see defenders who defend and strikers who score. Also midfielders who possess both skill and grit combined. The problem with TM is there is only one way and that is his way—he is too stubborn to see that to have the likes of Regis and Cunningham you need Wile and Robertson and to have expansive midfielders you need the Bryan Robson type as well. KP was a monumental mistake not replacing him was criminal. I would like to see a new man at the helm for next season but doubt that we will so I pray that TM does learn to have a PLan B at least.

  8. I’m more inclined to concur with Lionel’s point of view.

    The trouble with Mowbray’s principles – admirable as they are – is that they’ve created this idiot culture in a section of the Albion following where the process of relegation playing ‘lovely football’ is immediately preferable to avoiding the same but with supposedly brusque ‘hit and hoof’ methods. It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction by this new, imbecilic quarter that when anybody suggests that character, spirit and objective be injected into the Mowbray template, the sheep-like bleating of ‘we don’t want to be another Stoke’ arises on a wave of indignation (the same goes for buying players – a demand to just pay the extra £1m for a player who might just add something special to the squad is met with tuts of ‘ooh, we don’t want to put the club in debt’).

    This new, slightly snobbish and somewhat soft-minded belief that beautiful, flowing passing football is all, and that the true objective of winning a game is secondary to all this, has infiltrated people’s thinking for the worst. Suggest that Mowbray could mix it up and try other, perhaps simpler and stronger ways of coming away with a point or perhaps all three is met with howls of outrage from the new ‘purists’ who want their 90 minutes of Barca-lite (and it’s no guarantee that they get even that). I once visited an West Brom site and noted the response to a plea to Mowbray to try and overcome his principles to just have a go and win a game which went like this: “if you’re so keen on winning all that much, then why don’t you go and support Manchester United?”

    When you’ve reached that level of dumb spite, then there’s something wrong.

    On Mowbray? I don’t know. There are times this season when I wanted him sacked and to bring in someone just to arrest the decline and perhaps let the ‘new manager’ effect somehow bring us away from the relegation zone and at least make the relegation fight a convincing one (the recent, slight upturn may be classed as ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’). But we’re stuck with him, and he has the comfort to say all the dumbest things I’ve ever heard a manager say in recent years. Yes, with a few more good players, we’d be a European side, wouldn’t we?

    Who would take over from him? I don’t know – that’s for a chairman to find out, isn’t it? – but the answer that, in a world full of football managers, Mowbray cannot be replaced, seems quite an unconvincing one, a convenient answer rather than a perfect one.

    I’m not anti-beautiful game, in fact, when Mowbray came in with his ‘beautiful vision’, I was up there and hungry to suscribe to it, scales falling from my eyes and all that. This season has seen me revise my opinions to quite a degree in the wake of a man whose shrewdness of thought, quick-thinking and pure sense seems to have evaporated, to be replaced by a man who, from what he’s said and done, seems to have been composed of jelly upon greater, closer scrutiny.

    But, most infuriatingly, all this has created a rose-tint fog of wonder, where we must all wait for Tony Mowbray to transform into this fantastic new species of manager, where a lot of fans apparently base their certainties on hope, rather than anything concrete – hope that he’ll become Arsene Wenger MK II, hope that those fifteen minutes of midfield ballet become ninety of grass-scorching eye-candy, hope that a bronze statue of the man will adorn the front of the Hawthorns in decades to come. Sweeping under the carpet the embarrassments and dreadfulness that’s become the hallmark of Mowbray this season. Don’t mention it. It might hurt his feelings.

    No, I certainly don’t want ‘hoof and lump’, but, at the same time, I’m getting to hugely dislike this belief where a loss doesn’t matter as long as we can see that lovely bit of five-minute passing ballet just before half-time. Aesthetics don’t get you points. Trouble is, some people out there are getting to believe that the former outweighs the latter.

    And that’s astounding.

  9. the way i see it after 1 year in the premier league they probably have more money than they did same time last year, a smart thing would be to invest in the future, get players who are young and build up a squad to challenge later, by slowly increasing their level WBA can eventually rise to even greater heights next time. As long as the core players are kept and maybe a defensive increase and a good striker they will be back stronger. Maybe try to steal viduka from newcastle, he will probably be playing in the prem league next year and if he is willing to take a pay cut he could be immense for WBA

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