Best XI is a tricky one, not because it’s a struggle to separate the close qualities in our side, more the opposite. Not a tough decision between our ball winning defensive midfielder or our creative spark. No, it is hard to decide our best 11 based on the complete drivel that Albion fans are enduring week in, week out. At his disposal clock-watching Alan Irvine has a squad that previous Albion managers could have only dreamt about. Chairman Jeremy Peace has delivered him a team that, if managed correctly, could be a force. A side boasting millions of pounds spent on imports to give him a fighting chance of breaking into the top 12 and taking the club forwards.
Instead of that, Irvine has persisted with the players that were already at the club and have proven they can’t take us to the next level. Chris Brunt, Graham Dorrans and James Morrison inexplicably occupy the midfield and it shows no signs of changing, despite the poor performances and results.
In goal Ben Foster picks himself. Right-back is somewhat harder because Andre Wisdom is the obvious choice for Irvine, unfortunately I’m still not seeing it. One good assist for a goal against United is about as far as his positives go. The club have Costa Rican World Cup star Christian Gamboa on the books, he’s a West Brom player, why are we trying to develop Wisdom when he’s not even ours? Gamboa has blistering pace and would offer another option going forwards.
Craig Dawson and Joleon Lescott make the central partnership. Lescott has shown his class since being bought in and Dawson is finally starting to get some consistent game time that he has lacked at the club. Hopefully they can continue to build a relationship that might save the club from a relegation scrap.
Sebastien Pocognoli slots in at left-back, and despite his suspect defending against Palace I like my wing-backs to get forwards and he does that. His final delivery lacks in quality at times but the Belgian is still fairly new to the English game. Hopefully with Lescott next-door, and time, Pocognoli will bring consistency to the West Brom left side. Jason Davidson can’t get a look in, another player bought in based on a good World Cup.
The only man I would guarantee a spot in a best XI is Sessegnon, he is the type of player that can change a game in seconds and our only midfielder that possesses real pace and attacking intent. Other than that Craig Gardner probably has the edge over Morrison, Brunt and Dorrans, who all severely lack pace. Due to Gardner’s combative nature, the way he strikes a ball and his all round game he just gets the nod. I want to know why Irvine is playing the aforementioned trio every game? 4-0 against Burnley bagged Dorrans a spot in the European best XI and a 10 out of 10 rating. Once again it needs to be put in perspective, this is Burnley, at The Hawthorns, they were injury riddle and without Sam Vokes and Danny Ings, who are they only reason Burnley got promoted to the top division. To even survive a club needs to be beating the teams around them. Dorrans, Morrison and Brunt are okay against those teams. Against the bigger boys they just don’t cut it. They were non-existent at Anfield and did alright against Manchester United in a credible 2-2 draw. Did an average job against Palace at home, and were sub-par in a terrible spectacle against Leicester City and were again invisible against Newcastle. The midfield is the hub of any team, the area that needs to provide the basis for every attacking move, the line of defence protecting its back four. All three lack Premier League quality and would be more suited to the Championship.
Up top Saido Berahino has continued his development and rightly gained a place in the England squad. He is looking like the real deal, a bright light on a dismal, dark season. Good touch, great movement and emphatic finishing has saved the club from being in the bottom three. No other player has scored more than one league goal for West Brom. With the goal difference already in the negative who knows where we’d be without him. Victor Anichebe is good at what he does, he’s a handful for any defense and a real athlete, but unfortunately he is still spending a lot of time with niggles and knocks on the treatment table. The big summer signing Ideye Brown is still somewhat of an unknown quantity to the West Brom fans. His fleeting minutes on pitch haven’t given any indication as to whether the big Nigerian can play football or not, hopefully he receives some time to get fit and make an impact.
January brings the prospect of new faces. I don’t think the club need to tinker with the playing staff too much, just the management side. When all fit Albion have a good squad and one capable of staying in the league. Peace will be shrewd and knows that spending big in January isn’t the solution. Maybe just a change of manager can spark new life and give some of the fringe players a chance to play.
My feelings on his midfield selections are pretty clear. It’s nice to have the ball, which Albion seem to do in spells, but the lack of incision or quality coming from the midfield is frustrating. Keeping the ball like Barcelona is fine, if you’re Barcelon. If you’re two Scots and an Irishman then it just doesn’t, hasn’t and won’t work. It sounds like the start of a joke, the punch-line is no matter how little they contribute they’re guaranteed a spot next game. That decisive pass, jinxing run, just isn’t in their locker.
Sebastian Blanco’s fit, Silvestre Varela’s in training, Youssouf Mulumbu’s fit, Claudio Yacob’s fit and Georgios Samaras is fit. At least have the guts and try changing it up. Sticking to a formula that nicked a win via an own-goal and picked up one win in the last six games since the start of October is just not acceptable. Poor management for not recognising the problem and changing it. Instead of trying to win games it feels like Irvine is setting out his side not to lose. Packing the midfield and hoping to nick goals isn’t any way to play, especially at home.
Irvine’s comments that he didn’t play Berahino against Bournemouth because he was trying to protect him are ridiculous. At a club like Albion your only real shot at silverware is the Capital One Cup, and at a stretch the FA Cup. So when he drew Bournemouth, Irvine should have known he’d be playing his top-scorer and only goal threat. I know he would have wanted to play, and as a West Brom fan his inclusion was well worth the ‘risk’.
Rating (out of 5 stars): 2.
With the next two games more than likely to bring two consecutive loses, against high flying Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez’s Arsenal, Irvine is on thin ice and he needs to be preying that the hard head of Peace isn’t waiting directly underneath with a pair of scissors and his 12-month rolling contract. Too many glaring mistakes in selection and his choice of words on several occasions, “there’s fit then there’s match fit” have left him with fading faith. Cut-throat Peace won’t put the club in jeopardy and too many excuses will see Irvine out the door. Peace can take his job, but Peace can never take his freedom. Although Irvine should probably avoid The Hawthorns for a while.
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