It doesn’t seem like twelve weeks since the Baggies completed their league campaign with defeat to Crystal Palace, but here we are again just a few days before the whole thing starts again with a Hawthorns encounter with Bolton Wanderers.
It is a little different this year as Albion are looking forward to a season in the second tier for the first time since 2009, but the usual concerns about transfer activity are evident although they won’t last too long into the new campaign. It’s not been the smoothest of summers for the club with players rebelling and yet more senior management changes, but the football is about to take centre stage once again.
With the transfer window closing before the start of the Premier League season, the club will need to have concluded its permanent business by 5pm next Thursday, although the loan window is open until the end of August. At the time of writing, there have been five incomings and three significant departures, but the futures of Salomón Rondón and Craig Dawson remain distinctly uncertain, while Ahmed Hegazi, Jay Rodriguez and Kieran Gibbs continue to be the subject of speculation.
The behaviour of certain members of the squad over the close season has been incredibly disappointing following the positive end to the season. With Dawson, Foster and MacClean all refusing to travel on pre-season training tours, it can only have harmed the togetherness in the squad that Big Dave managed to engender following Pardew’s departure. Dawson is the only one of the that particular triumvirate to remain and, while you can understand his desire to play at the highest possible level in what is the prime of his career, his approach has been poor.
Compare that with Rodriguez, Gibbs and Rondón, three players who might have expected to leave, all have quietly gone about their pre-season with utter professionalism. All may still go with Rondón continuing to be linked to Newcastle, Gibbs rumoured to be the subject of a loan bid from Torino, and Rodriguez also attracting Premier League interest, but if they don’t, they will get the unquestioning support of the fans in the season ahead. If Dawson fails to get his move, he will have some bridges to rebuild. Whether it was his idea, or that of his agent, to “act up” this summer, we may never know, but it certainly leaves a sour taste.
Interestingly, the release clauses for Rondón, Hegazi and Chadli have all now expired, which theoretically puts Albion in a stronger position but whether that makes them more likely to stay, it’s difficult to say. It’s good that Albion don’t have to accept any last minute bids without the time to find replacements – the squad remains pretty thin, so if any of the “star” players are to go, it’s key that there are new players lined up. I’m also pleased that the club have so far resisted all loan offers for players – their value needs to be maximised and the club will need to fund incoming signings. Other than Dawson, there are no signs that any of the remaining players are likely to kick up a fuss if they don’t get a move. Chadli is, perhaps, the one unknown given that he has only just returned to training after his World Cup exploits, but there have been no rumours of unrest so far. Time will tell, I guess, over the next seven days.
Big Dave’s excellent start to his managerial career is now in the past and he will be judged on results from this point forward. Until the transfer window is concluded, it is difficult to judge him on that front and even then it may not be fair. Following the decision to sideline Terraneo, a head-scratching appointment in the first place, Moore became the most senior “football man” at the club – Jenkins may have a history in running the football club but you wouldn’t want him picking players.
What that has meant in terms of the logistics of picking transfer targets, I’m not sure. The signings so far indicate that there has been some sort of plan in place, and one would hope that should some of the big name players depart in the next ten days, replacements are lined up.
While trying to build a squad and dealing with rebelling players, Moore has also had to prepare his squad for the new season. From the outside, he has certainly appeared calm and professional and has avoided making any strong statements to the media, which is probably nothing more than we would have expected. Whether that will translate into continued success on the field remains to be seen, but his team will need to hit the ground running in what is a hectic start to the new season.
The Baggies play six games in the first three weeks of the season including trips to two of the fancied teams, Nottingham Forest and Tony Pulis’s Middlesbrough. Last season, Albion were unbeaten when the season took a break for the September internationals – with a home game against Championship favourites, Stoke City, completing their fixture list ahead of this season’s first weekend off, I’m sure Darren Moore would be very pleased should his new charges repeat that feat.
An opening fixture against Bolton Wanderers could be said to be a kind one, but it is one the home fans will be expecting Albion to win. The Trotters have had a difficult summer, with the players choosing to go on strike in protest at delays to salary payments earlier in July, having escaped relegation by just two points thanks to a final day victory over Nottingham Forest.
They have signed eight players so far this summer, although only one, striker Josh Magennis from Charlton, commanded a fee, albeit undisclosed, which was Bolton’s first cash signing for three and a half years. Five players have left the club, all on free transfers.
As for the Baggies, the Hawthorns faithful can look forward to league debuts for Sam Johnstone, Kyle Bartley and Harvey Barnes while the other two newcomers, Conor Townsend and Jonathan Bond are likely to make the bench. Bond does have competition from Boaz Myhill, of course, who was released in May and re-signed this week after attempts to sign a third goalkeeper drew a blank.
From a results point of view, pre-season has been successful with the draw against Derek McInnes’s Aberdeen proving to be the only game that Albion failed to win. That was undoubtedly their only real test with the Dons further on in their pre-season having drawn with Burnley in the Europa League less than a week after that match.
Fifteen goals in six games is more than we are used to seeing, and perhaps the most surprising statistic is that Hal Robson-Kanu scored five of them! It bodes well, albeit the quality of the opposition was not great, but Albion remain short up front, particularly with Rondón and Rodriguez unlikely to both be at the Hawthorns in a fortnight’s time.
The final make-up of the squad is far from certain. James Morrison has impressed in pre-season but no contract agreement is yet in place, while former Middlesbrough defender, Martin Cranie, has played in five of Albion’s warm-up games but remains unsigned. Finally, Darren Moore finally got his number two this week as Roberto Martínez’s former assistant, Graeme Jones, was appointed as Assistant Head Coach.
Albion and Bolton have not met since the penultimate weekend of the 2011/12 season when goals from Brunt and Morrison in the last 15 minutes rescued a point for the Baggies. Had Bolton won that game, they would have stayed up that season.
Earlier that season, Shane Long scored the winner in the reverse fixture in what is Albion’s only win over the Trotters in the last nine meetings. However, Bolton have not won at the Hawthorns since August 2000 when Isiah Rankin and Gareth Farrelly scored in a 2-0 win. Of course, that was the first of four meetings between the clubs that season with them meeting in the play-off semi-finals – Albion surrendered a 2-0 lead in the home leg and were well beaten in the return leg at the Reebok and Sam Allardyce’s team went on to beat Preston in the final.
One of the more remarkable meetings between the sides was in April 2000 Albion battled against relegation to Division Two in the early days of Gary Megson’s tenure at the Hawthorns. The Baggies trailed three times in that match at the Hawthorns before Adam Oliver game them a 4-3 lead with two minutes to go, only for Gudni Bergsson to equalise in stoppage time.
That is not the only 4-4 draw that Bolton have earned at the Hawthorns; a match in 1980 also finished with eight goals equally shared and, on that occasion, it was Peter Reid that had the honour of scoring a late equaliser.
Those matches were the highest scoring encounters between the sides, however, as the sides have shared nine goals on no fewer than three occasions in West Bromwich. In September 1962, Derek Kevan bagged a hat-trick in a 5-4 win for the Baggies (seven months after scoring twice in the same fixture, a match which finished 6-2!), while back in 1889, Albion ran out 6-3 winners at Stoney Lane with Tom Pearson notching four goals in what was the Baggies first win over Bolton at the third attempt.
Albion’s record win over the Trotters came in their first ever meeting at the Hawthorns in December 1900. Richard Roberts scored three in a 7-2 thumping.
Bolton’s biggest win at the Hawthorns was on Boxing Day 1923 when David Jack scored three in a 5-0 win for the visitors.
A comfortable home win for the Baggies.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
6 May 2012 – Premier League
Bolton Wanderers 2 (Petrov (pen), Jones (o.g.))
West Brom 2 (Brunt, Morrison)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
19 Nov 2011 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Thomas, Long)
Bolton Wanderers 1 (Klasnić)
Albion’s Record against Bolton Wanderers