West Bromwich Albion seemed to be turning a corner during the first few months of this Premier League season. In previous top flight years they’d been known as entertainers who had been punished for trying to play the right way and as a team whose attacking style left them too open at the back. But with Roberto Di Matteo at the helm things were starting to look a little brighter in this half of the season in the Black Country.
Minus their opening day thumping, West Brom’s defensive record was looking remarkably healthy and, most importantly, they were becoming very hard to beat. In the space of a month they’d won at the Emirates and come back from two down to take a point from Old Trafford. Di Matteo’s managerial stock rose sharply and West Brom were looking like they were ready to remove the ‘boing boing’ shackles from around their ankles. The first half of the season was a fine time to be a supporter of West Brom.
But as with any rise, a fall must follow and in what seemed like a punishment for raising expectations Di Matteo was sacked. The board moved quickly to find a replacement and confirmed that ousted Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson was their chosen man.
It seems fitting that Hodgson’s affair with West Brom began on Valentine’s Day. They say that everyone gets cold feet before making a relationship official, and if that’s the case Roy must haven been sat with frostbitten toes on Saturday after witnessing the Hawthorns horror show. It all started so well, 3-0 up after a mere 32 minutes against the team bottom of the league should guarantee a win, but West Ham’s marvelously named striker Demba Ba (the shortest surname in Premier League history?) had other ideas and helped the Hammers get back to 3-3. The draw not only means that West Brom failed to pull away from the bottom three, but it also gave a massive boost to a relegation rival.
The most pressing concern for Hodgson has to be his defence. In a drastic change from their early season form, West Brom have quietly managed to compile the worst ‘goals against’ record in the Premier League – 51 from 26 games and it has been almost six months since they last kept a clean sheet in the league. Defensive stability can only come from a regular back four and this season West Brom have been unable to manage this. Jonas Olsson, Nicky Shorey and Marek Cech have all missed large parts of the season and even Gonzalo Jara, their defender with the most minutes played, has failed to complete 90 minutes in over a third of their games. Their back four dilemma then became a back five dilemma when Scott Carson was dropped for his dip in form in January. Roy needs to find some stability fast before his new team, who currently lie out of the bottom three on goal difference, sink any further.
Alarming also is the dip in form of midfield talisman Chris Brunt. When you’ve acquired a habit of conceding goals you need to make sure that you’ve got a way of scoring them and before Christmas Brunt was their go-to man. He currently has two goals and nine assists; however all of these stats had come before the middle of December and there has been little in output from Brunt in the nine games since. Peter Odemwingie is a marvelxous striker but unless he gets service from the players behind him he will struggle to make an impact on games.
Roy Hodgson has a good managerial track record and after the great escape he performed at Fulham he is a great candidate to get the Baggies out of trouble. In his press conference, Hodgson was keen to dwell on the fact that he felt wanted at West Brom, a feeling which he said he never really experienced at Anfield. If Hodgson can make a winning start against local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday then not only will he feel wanted at West Brom, he will be loved unconditionally.
It will be a tough job for sure, but I think the renaissance that a team experiences under a new manager can see West Brom steer clear of trouble. Even though they have a tough April where they face Liverpool, Sunderland, Chelsea and Spurs I think that there are at least three teams who are worse than the Baggies this season, not a glowing appraisal but I’m sure that Roy Hodgson and the West Brom board will take survival however it comes about.