Summer suddenly a distant memory for Albion
Can it be only two weeks since West Brom’s stunning 5-0 win at co-promotion favourites Middlesbrough?
For since that game, which left many pundits regarding Albion as automatic promotion shoe-ins, an autumnal chill has descended on the Hawthorns, blowing away the sunny late-summer optimism.
First, there was the League Cup elimination against the Wenger boys. Then, the Neil Warnock jinx struck again with a 0-1 home reverse against Palace in the league, followed by a feeble 1-3 surrender at Oakwell.
It meant today’s turgid nil-nil at a sparsely populated Deepdale was greeted with relief at a point gained and the rot stopped.
Four games, a cup exit, one goal, and one point.
So why have the wheels suddenly come off the Baggies’ bandwagon?
In truth, many of the wide cracks in the squad left by Tony Mowbray have only been papered over.
This is most evident at the back, where Jonas Olsson stands literally and metaphorically above Albion’s other defenders. In the middle, he has partnered Leon Barnett, Shelton Martis, and today, Abdoulaye Meite – but each has looked like a rabbit in the headlights.
Things are little better at full back. New left back Joe Mattock arrived with a reputation built on regular England caps at youth and Under-21 level, but has looked uncomfortable after making the step up from League One.
At right back, Gianni Zuiverloon is a player born 10 years too late; he may have thrived as an attacking wing back when 3-5-2 was fashionable a decade ago, but defensively he is weak – when not let down by poor positional sense, he is often brushed off the ball with embarrassing ease, notably by Newcastle’s Jonas Gutierrez.
Up front, the chief problem is a lack of pace. Luke Moore appears less lethargic than he did last season but cannot be relied on consistently. The reformed Roman Bednar can lead the line belligerently, but is rarely able to break clear of his marker.
Former Swindon hot-shot Simon Cox is no whippet, and like Mattock, has looked out of depth in the higher division, while promising 17-year-old New Zealand international Chris Wood is, at 6’3″, more likely to trouble defenders in the air.
It’s a different story in midfield. The revelaton has undoubtedly been former Livingston player Graham Dorrans. He is maturing into a classy all-round midfielder: great balance, superb vision, a decent shot, and dead-eye dead ball delivery. Alongside him Mulumbu has provided the defensive shield the team lacked last season, though he gets forward enough to get on the scoresheet too.
In addition to those two, there is Mr Consistent, Slovenian captain Robert Koren, the beguiling if frustratingly inconsistent left-foot of Chris Brunt, and another player seemingly revitalised by Di Matteo, the Slovakian left-sided midfielder come wing-back Marek Cech.
With pacy wide men in Jerome Thomas and Reuben Reid, plus the Portuguese trickery of Felipe Teixeira, there are no shortage of options for Di Matteo in midfield.
The problem though, is the shortage of options at either end. Di Matteo is trying to build a team adept at soaking up pressure, and scoring on the break – which after last season, would be welcomed by most Albion fans. Unfortunately, his plans are being hampered by a porous defence and sluggish attack.
Neil Clement and Ishmael Miller are still long-term injury absentees – so if the recent dip in form continues, expect a dip into the loan market.