Summer suddenly a distant memory for Albion

Posted by on Oct 5, 2009 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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.

Frank Heaven

3 Comments

  1. Jarvo
    October 6, 2009

    As I've said before you need to be very careful about what you wish for…for almost as long as I can remember what Albion have lacked is a holding midfield player: they get Mulumbu in and appear to have turned it round…A couple of bad results what do we do? Through in another defensive midfielder, and get what was, in my opinion, a decent result and a half decent performance at Preston.

    Now it might be splitting hairs (but not if you've read the excellent Inverting the Pyramid, well reviewed on these pages) but I interpreted Saturday's formation as 4-2-3-1: a formation which gives more protection (hence the clean sheet); encourages your full backs to get forward (best performances for a while in both cases); frees up your attacking midfeilders; and demands a lot of your sole forward (well Bedner tries…)
    This is never going to be a popular formation with your typical fan – not enough forwards, you can play too narrow but I thought it had merits and it certainly showed a lot of pragmatism on de Matteo's part which bodes well.
    If we'd have had Morrison and Miller I'd have expected goals in the mix as well and Thomas' pace would have been useful. So steady as we go as far as I am concerned.

    Reply
  2. Lloyd
    October 7, 2009

    Jarvo: What was Jonathan Greening, if not a holding midfielder?

    I think WBA's good start probably owes more to others' weakness rather than their own strength. There's still a lot of good players at the club, but I wasn't overly impressed when we lost 3-1 at the Hawthorns. Carson, Olsson, Mattock, Cech and Wood all looked promising, but your main summer signing can't score and you didn't look confident in defence.

    LG was right when he said a 1-0 win would have been better for you at 'boro.

    Reply
  3. Frank Heaven
    October 9, 2009

    Thanks all for your feedback.

    Jarvo, I am reading Inverting the Pyramid but have only got as far as Herbert Chapman's Arsenal. I see your point about the formation at Deepdale, but maybe 4-1-4-1 is a more accurate description?

    Incidentally, one player who I didn't mention was the Chilean Gonzalo Jara, who looked a quality player at this level – playing in an advanced midfield role he gave us the 'go forward' that was so lacking with Greening. Although as I thought we'd bought him to replace the feckless Zuiverloon I'm not sure if he'll play there regularly.

    Dorrans came into the picture in the second half of the season under Mowbray – many of us think if he'd played from the start instead of Valero we might have survived last term…

    Preston was an improvement but I think our league position is better than our performances have merited.

    Reply

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