Good news and bad news for Albion
First, here’s the bad news. West Bromwich Albion were utterly uninspiring in yesterday’s win at Nottingham Forest. Any neutral present would have found it hard to understand why the Baggies are considered joint favourites for promotion.
But now the good news. Teams who ‘bounce back’ at the first attempt following relegation from the premier league generally do so by being, well, utterly uninspiring.
Seem illogical? Look at the evidence. Birmingham City played a cheerless brand of football throughout last season — as their average crowds of 19,000 might suggest — yet they managed to scramble up. And Blues’s 2006/07 promotion season under Steve Bruce followed a similar pattern.
West Brom went straight back up in 2003/04 playing the kind of dour football that has come to characterise Gary Megson’s teams — yet failed with Tony Mowbray’s cavalier style in 2006/07.
Go back further, and Micky Adams successfully used ‘no frills’ tactics to get administration-haunted Leicester up at the first attempt in 2002/03.
In recent years, only Kevin Keegan’s Manchester City of 2001/02 have bounced back immediately with any kind of panache.
Generally, the successful formula has not been attractive on the eye. Why? Well, there’s no obvious explanation. But probably, I would suggest, because confidence has been shattered by relegation, and teams resort to a more cautious, defence-oriented strategy.
That seems partially true of Robert di Matteo’s West Bromwich Albion. His interviews to date have been peppered with phrases like “winning is everything”, “learning how to close games out”, and “playing without possession”.
Some of that was on show yesterday at the City Ground. Certainly Forest had long periods of possession, though Albion didn’t necessarily play well in those periods.
Had ex-Baggie Robert Earnshaw not hooked his penalty wide, the game would definitely not have been ‘closed out’, and Forest would have had a more than deserved point.
As it was, the win was secured.
Is that everything? Well, Albion fans will be slightly alarmed at the number of long balls played yesterday, and at the tactic of playing a lone striker in Luke Moore. It remained one up front even when the busy Craig Beattie came on, the ex-Celtic striker causing problems for Forest playing on the right flank.
Compared to the exciting if ultimately frustrating Tony Mowbray era, the entertainment value yesterday was well down.
It may be that this is just part of a transition phase, as the players adjust to a new manager’s style.
Or it may be that, to get out of this division at the first attempt, you need to play utterly uninspiring football.