Let's Hope We Have Got Our ‘Blip’ Out of the Way Early - Notes for West Bromwich Albion
Thursday, 22nd Nov 2018 11:45 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Friday night’s game at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“What a difference a week makes”, “This has to be the result of the season so far. Well done to all”, “A good day for every Albion fan. If we can build on this we’re back in contention”, “The best team performance of the season so far by an absolute distance”, “Onwards and upwards, hopefully….”
“What a way to end a bad run.” Albion head down to Suffolk sitting in fifth place in the table, with fans buoyed by a change in formation and tactics which transformed the side in a 4-1 win over high-flying Leeds before the latest international break. This result ended their four-game winless run.
“I can’t remember the last time I have seen an Albion side demolish a good opponent as thoroughly as that, and it was completely deserved”, “I thought we were superb and I was proud to be a Baggie for the first time in ages. We made a very good side look ordinary”, “Finally the penny has dropped.”
“I didn’t think for a second that we would walk the league. After possibly the worst season in over 30 years supporting the team, they are doing a good recovery job”, “We will gradually get there. I’m not saying we will win the league and I don’t know where we will finish, but we will have a good season.”
“Our front three are absolutely lethal. We are in such a good position despite not playing at all well. If we do finally put in a good 90 minutes on a regular basis we would blow teams away”, “Going forward we look great but we look terrible at the back, and we don't seem to be improving much.”
“It’s still early days, but if we start clicking, we will have a half-decent side.” Many Albion fans went into the season with guarded expectations after last year’s relegation campaign. “We need to start getting clean sheets and fix our away form as we have some tough home games over the next run.”
“Darren, take a bow for being brave enough to change our shape and tactics against Leeds”, “I am so chuffed for him as I was going bananas about his previous tactics. I really want him to succeed”, “I still have my doubts about him being at the helm, but every credit to him for changing the system.”
The 44-year-old former West Brom and Derby centre-half replaced Alan Pardew in April as caretaker-manager with the side all but relegated. He won the April Manager of the Month award as the team were undefeated, and he was given the role on a permanent basis the soon afterwards.
“Darren may be a great bloke and a top-class motivator but he’s clueless when it comes to tactical decisions. We should be strolling this league with our team”, “He needs to stop talking about lessons to be learned and things to work on. He keeps on making the same mistakes over and over again.”
“Our performances resemble Darren’s demeanour, laid back, quiet and a bit mundane.” Fans were worried about his lack of experience and his tactical naivety in the poor run before the Leeds game. “We lack imagination and every pass is sideways or backwards. He is completely out of his depth.”
“He was in danger of taking his loyalty and faith in his incumbents too far, but he shook it up both tactically and personnel-wise against Leeds”, “His character is built on loyalty and trust, so chopping and changing personnel could have badly damaged morale”, “Please don’t start tinkering now…”
Balance, Balance All Over the Field
“Today we looked like a real football team”, “The 4-3-3 shape gives you the best of all worlds. You can play on the front foot, you can play direct, you can keep possession or retreat and play on the counter without losing shape”, “We had a far better shape and looked much tighter at the back.”
Moore scrapped his previous wing-back shape for the Leeds game and encouraged the team to play more directly, attacking on the counter after they took the lead. The switch of Matt Phillips from a wide to an attacking central role added energy and threatening running which had been missing.
“All season we have lacked energy and fire, but you could see it return against Leeds”, “We played a great game. We pushed up and didn’t tippy-tap the ball out from the back. It was long kicks upfield and the front three running on to them”, “We must continue playing this way, no going backwards.”
“I was surprised by our low possession statistic, but there’s no way that was Pulis-style football. We attacked as a complete team”, “We had a remarkable 20 shots from 28 per cent possession”, “The big difference was the speed with which we got forward instead of sideways and backwards passes.”
“Leeds looked like us. We looked like them.” The starting XI for the Leeds win (above) had only two personnel changes from the side (below) which suffered a limp 1-0 defeat away to Hull the previous weekend, but the change of shape and approach meant that the two sides were unrecognisable.
“Keep the back four that started against Leeds and we should romp this league.” Sam Johnstone has been criticised for his poor command of his area, but centre-backs Craig Dawson and Ahmed Hegazi were more comfortable with the side’s more direct style playing together in a back four.
Tosin Adarabioyo switched from his natural centre-half role to right-back. He was less adventurous pushing forward but his eye for a pass from deep give the side an outlet against Leeds. Kieran Gibbs in contrast is a highly experienced left-back who was a real threat when overlapping Harvey Barnes.
“Playing that midfield really worked. Matt Phillips gave us the energy, Jake Livermore sat and James Morrison could pick out passes.” Chris Brunt missed the Leeds game with a hamstring injury but fans felt that his lack of energy and pace in an unfamiliar role actually unbalanced the centre of midfield.
“Hal Robson-Kanu and Barnes swapped sides and Kanu scored.” Many felt that Robson-Kanu had his best ever game in a West Brom shirt against the Whites, where his strength and hold-up play was a great foil for the dangerous and incisive running and passing of Barnes on the opposite flank.
Despite their recent poor run, the Baggies are the division’s top scorers with 33 goals. Dwight Gayle’s lethal finishing in particular has kept the team in touch with the top of the table. Jay Rodriguez is not seen as a natural finisher but has contributed to their attacking play with his passing and movement.
Albion’s squad also possesses strength in depth and experience including right-back Tyrone Mears and midfielders Gareth Barry and Wes Hoolahan. Wingers Oliver Burke and Bakary Sako are options as well as summer defensive additions, centre-back Kyle Bartley and left-back Conor Townsend.
West Brom 4 – 1 Leeds
“Job done”, “Once the first goal went in and the spaces opened up, we were just too much”, “You could see from the start that the team was comfortable doing what was being asked of it”, “We took our chances and that was crucial”, “A memorable night with some great goals. Thank you, Albion.”
“I didn’t expect that.” After completely dominating the first half without scoring, Robson-Kanu fired in a low shot to put Albion in front on 51. Phillips double the lead with an effort from outside the area on 67 and it was 3-0 when Barnes steered home on 82 when put through.
Substitute Gayle backheeled in the Baggies' fourth a minute later to mark his return from a foot injury, while Pablo Hernandez's stoppage-time header was no more than a consolation for the visitors. “I was fully expecting to watch this game from behind the sofa but we were outstanding.”
“We went at Leeds and really made a game of it”, “We looked really solid at the back, with the midfielders doing well and the front three giving Leeds food for thought”, “We were hitting it long, passing the ball using flick-ons and hitting the channels. It was like putting on a comfy old jumper.”
Hull 1 – 0 West Brom
“We all saw it coming”, “Outplayed, out-thought and outfought by Hull, a team with one clean sheet all season, and that was against bottom club Ipswich”, “A blip became a crisis today. We were very poor”, “We looked really dire, but so did Hull. We were so frighteningly short of any imagination.”
“That was as bad as anything served up under Pulis.” Hull won this game via Fraizer Campbell’s shot on 38, the striker reacting quickest to put in a rebound after Jackson Irvine headed Jarrod Bowen's cross from a short corner against the bar. “That was simply disgraceful. We never looked like scoring.”
“Hull were rubbish and the game was there for the taking but we just lacked pace all game”, “A half-decent team would have put three past us in the first half. There were loads of massive gaps all over the pitch when we lost the ball. The formation was completely rank”, “These are worrying times.”
West Brom 1 – 1 Blackburn
“That was pathetic, an inadequate squad and manager with our tactics exposed once again”, “Poor. Rovers were down to 10 men with their outfield player in goal and we still didn’t test them enough”, “The team was so spread out and there seemed to be a complete lack of ideas when we attacked.”
Albion went ahead on 40 Craig Dawson headed home at the far post from Phillips’s corner, but Harrison Reed then curled home a 25-yarder to level on 71. Midfielder Richie Smallwood had to go in goal after Rovers keeper David Raya was injured on 82 but Albion were unable to take advantage.
“Our substitutions had a combined age of nearly 100 and gave us no energy whatsoever.” Fans were unhappy with the lack of pace in the starting XI (above), but the substitution of two players in Barnes and Sako who added some tempo for slow veterans Brunt and Hoolahan left many of them baffled.
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“Sam Johnstone needs a GPS at times to find his penalty spot and he doesn’t command his area by neither talking to his defenders or taking crosses. The 25-year-old Manchester United youth product played on loan at Aston Villa last season before joining West Brom on a permanent deal in July.
Sam Johnstone (Aston Villa)
“Johnstone is still shaky on crosses and opts to punch or palm the ball into danger areas. His lack of ability playing the ball forward isn’t the greatest. He’s also quite immobile and doesn’t cover his goal well”, “His shot-stopping has been brilliant but he is reluctant to come off his line or boss his area.”
“It’s good to see Kieran Gibbs enjoying his football.” The 29-year-old former Arsenal left-back “is a great outlet who lets us play with natural width”, “Everything we have seen from him this season suggests that he is being managed much better. Tony Pulis clearly nullified his attacking instincts.”
“Gibbs has been excellent going forward which, to be fair, you would expect at this level. There are still questions about him defensively”, “His positional sense is a level above, he is five seconds ahead of the game in this regard”, “A forward-thinking left-back who gives us with and attacking options.”
“Conor Townsend makes nice runs but he’s wasteful in delivery and often beaten in the air.” The 25-year-old left-back arrived from Scunthorpe in July with Town also having made a bid. “At 5ft 6in tall, he is quite small for a defender in a division that likes a good ball to the back post but he likes to get forward and takes good set pieces.”
“Tosin Adarabioyo handled the right-back role well against Leeds considering he has little experience there.” The 21-year-old loan signing from Manchester City “has clearly been taught the passing side of the game at City”, “It’s now really about getting him to be a more complete all-round defender.”
“Tosin might be comfortable on the ball but he’s raw defensively. He can play too narrow at full-back and get caught out when the opposition send the ball out wide”, “He’s a defender by nature and put in good challenges but he’s uncomfortable going forward, so he offered little in an attacking sense.”
“The role of wing-back was too much for Tyrone Mears.” The 35-year-old one-time Derby right-back joined in August on a short-term deal. “He’s naturally defensive and lacks both aggression in attack and the pace to recover. He’s better suited to a Pulis-type team where there’s less forward intent.”
“I’m very happy that Kyle Bartley is nowhere to be seen.” The 27-year-old July signing from Swansea played on loan for Leeds in 2016/17. “He’s the worst centre-half we have had in a long time. His bad passing leads to opposition goals and he has a habit of blaming everyone else for his shortcomings.”
“Bartley is not a ball-player in a back three, but he may look better in a team that sits back and plays on the counter”, “He looks good if you tell him to win tackles and headers and play channel balls, but he doesn’t track his man and spots the danger too slowly. He’s even worse with the ball at his feet.”
“Ahmed Hegazi has looked less than impressive.” The 27-year-old ex-Al Ahly centre-half and Egypt international “comes charging out towards the ball leaving his fellow centre-back badly exposed. His positional play is awful and his decision-making is erratic”, “It’s weird the way he freezes at times.”
“For a huge bloke Hegazi gets done in the air far too often and often he barely jumps”, “He loses his concentration and positional awareness and you simply can’t do that at any level”, “He has looked all at sea”, “He divides opinion but he’s a good player who just needs an organiser alongside him.”
“Against Leeds, Dawson was back to the superb defender we know he can be.” The 28-year-old former Rochdale centre-half “is a brave defender attacking the ball. He’s a useful defender dealing with aerial bombardments and body-on-the-line stuff, while he can be a threat from set pieces.”
“Dawson is a no-nonsense defender, not Franz Beckenbauer. In the back three his mind wasn’t on defending as it should have been and it showed. Ask him to do what he’s good at and he’s twice the player”, “He looked more comfortable being asked to simply defend rather than be a playmaker.”
“Gareth Barry is left-footed, comfortable on the ball and adept at cutting out danger.” The 37-year-old former Everton man “is calm in possession and rarely gives the ball away. He can keep us ticking over”, “Having him on the bench is fine with me. I prefer him getting 20 minutes than starting.”
“Wes Hoolahan is clearly a very technical, tidy player, although with our attack he will mostly be a substitute.” The 36-year-old former Canary arrived on a short-term deal in September. “He’s a very creative player with a good pass, a bit like Johnny Giles who acted as a central midfield organiser.”
Wes Hoolahan (Norwich)
“I hope Darren Moore doesn’t bring Chris Brunt back for Ipswich, but I think he will.” The 33-year-old left-sided former Sheffield Wednesday man “gives balls away cheaply and turns down easy balls out wide. All he can do is lay it back to the defence and look for it again. He is just a travesty in midfield.”
“Brunt is a deep-lying player with no pace who likes the ball at his feet, but that wand is looking more like a stick”, “He can offer something out wide on the left, but he has been anonymous. I do believe it may be the beginning of the end for him”, “His being injured probably strengthened the team.”
“Sam Field can get forward to support the frontline.” The 20-year-old youth product “isn’t dynamic but he’s a metronome player who keeps the game ticking over with an eye for a pass”, “He’s rangy and can carry the ball and drive forward, striding through midfield. His range of passing is superb.”
“James Morrison was quietly effective against Leeds.” The 32-year-old ex-Middlesbrough man “gave much-needed impetus to the midfield. He slotted in comfortably in a deeper role, took the ball off out back four and started our attacks”, “I hope he can stay fit for the season but that’s a long shot.”
“Morrison hasn’t got the legs for an attacking role any more. Let him pick passes from further back and he will be fine”, “He can link with our wingers and strikers, or he can put his foot on the ball and find the killer pass that unlocks opposition defences”, “On his day he can be a real game-changer.”
“We put Matt Phillips in midfield to add pace there against Leeds.” The 29-year-old ex-QPR winger “ran the game for us. Our second goal showed his qualities, a great tackle followed by a great goal. I wouldn’t have had him in a midfield three in a month of Sundays but he was the pick of our players.”
Matt Phillips (QPR)
“Phillips thrived through the centre, outrunning Leeds players and turning defence into attack”, “He was great but that was on the counter-attack. I’m not so sure it’s his style to play a central attacking role in front of a more congested, deeper defence, but he was everywhere and on a different level.”
“Jake is a nuisance getting at opposition midfielders and trying to break up play.” The 29-year-old ex-Hull man “struggled last season but you must give him credit this year. He gets stuck in but lacks the touch, control and confidence to turn on the ball and break the lines to find our attacking players.”
“Livermore buzzes around central midfield breaking up play and putting us on the front foot”, “He is winning me over with his attitude and commitment. He can boss the midfield and he puts in sublime passes to the frontmen”, “He’s not a box-to-box midfielder but is really effective in congested areas.”
Wide Midfielders and Wingers
“Why not give Oliver Burke a run out?” The 21-year-old ex-Nottingham Forest and RB Leipzig right winger “has tried to find space, run at players and create things”, “If I was an opposition defender, I would be concerned having to mark him. He can really damage teams with his pace and strength.”
“Fair play to Hal Robson-Kanu, he had a cracking game and scored a great goal against Leeds.” The 29-year-old ex-Reading winger “gets pelters most weeks but was brilliant. His strength and hold-up play were coupled with clever technical touches. He’s more effective playing as a wider forward.”
Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading)
“Robson-Kanu has had more awful performances for us than good ones, let’s not forget that on the back of one exceptional game”, “If he put his chances away last season, we wouldn’t have ended up in the mess we did”, “Other wingers are forceful, but he has ‘get the pipe and slippers’ all over him.”
“Bakary Sako could be a real handful once he gets match-sharp.” The 30-year-old arrived in October as a free agent having left Crystal Palace in July. “He looked very rusty in his debut against Blackburn but was still a big threat. He could have played in better-placed team-mates but looked powerful.”
“Sako has tried hard so there’s nothing wrong with his application”, “He’s an undoubted talent with his athleticism and can play across the frontline”, “He’s a good explosive power player with Premier League experience”, “He worked hard but is very rusty and it needs saying that he’s not a striker.”
“Barnes, when he’s on it, is superb.” The 20-year-old loanee from Leicester “can produce something out of nothing at any moment. He’s dangerous when allowed to run at pace against defenders”, “He can canter past players effortlessly given space, but he is often being heavily marked and nullified.”
“Barnes has pace and power to do 60-yard runs which take players out of the game. He can finish on either foot and his balance and control at pace in the final third are impressive”, “He is playing every game and learning his trade right now. His habit of taking an extra touch makes him less effective.”
“Kyle Edwards is a breath of fresh air.” The 20-year-old youth product “had a very good cameo in our win over Reading and gave us a natural width we needed”, “He’s very direct and looks to get the ball into the area, and he’s not shy of a tackle”, “He can cut inside from the left or play behind a striker.”
“Jay Rodriguez powered his way past the Leeds defenders to set up two of their goals.” The 29-year-old former Southampton striker “never stopped running and he looked happier in the more dynamic attack with other options around him. He didn’t have to go so deep to get the ball in a 4-3-3 shape.”
“Rodriguez was like his old self, a proper menace all evening marking Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips”, “He did struggle in the 3-5-2 shape as he wasn’t quick enough to run the channels or strong enough to hold up the ball”, “He worked hard but his finishing was very poor, lots of huff and puff but nothing else.”
“If Gayle is fit, Gayle plays.” The 29-year-old is on a season-long loan from Newcastle in a deal which saw Salomon Rondon likewise go on loan to the Magpies. “He is so much more clinical and assured where it counts in front of goal”, “All our hopes are on his scoring enough to get us into the top six.”
Berra v Dwight Gayle (Newcastle)
“Gayle is a better finisher than Rodriguez with a poacher’s knack”, “His attitude has been great since he arrived and he has linked well with Rodriguez and the midfield”, “His movement is superb as well, not just his touch and finishing in the box. He knows how to hurt teams by running or standing still.”
“Players looked more comfortable in the new shape but the more I see, the more I’m convinced that Gayle is the difference whatever the formation”, “He’s so pivotal to what we do and we look pretty average without him. Without Gayle we looked clueless at times”, “This lad will get us promoted.”
Baggies’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“Off we go again, win and we're second for at least 24 hours, lose and we'll be out of the top six by teatime on Saturday”, “These guys are bottom of the league so we should trounce this lot”, “In all fairness no game in the Championship is a rollover, plus Ipswich now also have a new manager.”
“It’s nice to go into this game with a little optimism after the last display.” Baggies have had little to say about Friday’s game so far, but the mood is pretty confident. Most are hopeful that they won’t repeat their last away display at Hull although their away form has been a source of concern.
“The style that worked against Leeds might not work against a deep-sitting team trying to chisel out a point because they will get numbers back behind the ball in a deep sitting block. At this point we need to move the ball around to work positions. I suspect the first test of this is Ipswich next Friday.”
The busiest West Brom message-board is the polite and knowledgeable WestBrom.com.
Photo: Action Images
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