After back to back defeats, the sounds of discontentment have got louder on the Albion fans’ message boards and social media groups. That is understandable, but in my opinion, calls for Darren Moore’s head are a massive over-reaction.
It’s probably the case that the angriest shout loudest and that they do not represent a majority of those who follow the club, and I do get the feeling that many of them have just been waiting for a result like Wednesday ready with a diatribe of criticism that they’ve been bottling up while the results remained positive.
I am, however, not of the opinion that all is rosy within the Baggies camp and, any regular reader will know that I have continued to point out what I see as the weaknesses in the squad, the tactics and the performances, but surely we must keep a sense of perspective. It is, I guess, a symptom of the social media age that there is the desire to comment on events with an immediate and sensationalist opinion, but I find the whole thing ridiculous and, frankly, childish. Furthermore, I would put that criticism to advocates of both extremes of the argument who seem to wish to bait one another, the “Moore Haters” and the “Happy Clappers” as they style each other; by all means, have an opinion, but is there not a middle ground?
As an example, I’ve read more than once that Kyle Bartley is the worst central defender ever to pull on an Albion shirt. He may not be as good as his head coach was, but anyone who witness some of the defenders that played for the club in the early nineties could certainly name several that were much worse than the former Swansea man. You also have to consider that he is still learning how to play in a back three, and is certainly not at his most comfortable on the left side; he doesn’t deserve the level of criticism I have seen in some quarters.
While the extreme opinions are easy to dismiss, there are those that have written well argued and measured posts that call for Moore to go, and a consistent theme in many of these is that a failure to get promoted this season will be a disaster. While I accept that it will get harder year on year, I was certainly not expecting to bounce straight back given where the club were in the summer and, for me, we are well ahead of where I thought we would be.
Unlike the Baggies’ relegations in the noughties, the club has dropped out of the Premier League completely unprepared for the Championship. Previously, the squad was full of players used to playing in the second tier and everything that involved, this time a massive overhaul was needed. That overhaul was not only in the playing staff, but also in the playing style. Darren Moore needed to bring in a lot of new players and they integrate them into the squad while also trying to change the mentality of those that were left from last season from a defensive outlook to an attacking one.
That process is ongoing and is nowhere near complete. Nonetheless, Albion are at the right end of the table and at this “crisis point” are in fourth place two points off the top – some crisis.
I honestly thought this season would be a struggle and that if we could sneak into the play-offs, it would be a successful season. That is how tough this division is, particularly for sides that have been relegated after an extended spell in the Premier League. You only have to look at the number of former Premier League teams currently in the Championship and below to know that. I am surprised and delighted to see Albion challenging for the automatic promotion places at this stage but I’m also realistic in that I know it might not last.
There is no doubt that Albion have been fortunate in a number of games this season and the 24 points we have got could easily have been 18. Were that the case, I wonder if the reaction to the defeat by Derby would have been as vociferous.
Let’s look at what has changed since the international break. The games away to Birmingham and Sheffield Wednesday probably highlighted Albion’s issues more than most and I’d be the first to admit that Albion were fortunate to take a point from both matches. But the home games against Bristol City and Reading also highlighted the problems and the Baggies could have easily been 2 or 3 goals down in the first half of those games.
At Wigan, Albion came up against a team that had the energy and organisation to maintain the high press that has caused the defence issues all season while also defending extremely well and denying the Baggies’ front three the time and space they normally get when playing against a high pressing team. Paul Cook used similar tactics with similar results against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City last season, and it was no disgrace to lose to the Latics, the team with the best home record in the division. Having said that, Albion had a few half chances that they could have easily converted, and the goal itself was down to some basic poor defending rather than a mistake following a high press, with Mears, Adarabioyo and Hegazi all culpable.
Before the international break, I thought that the regular back three were starting to improve in their passing and the mistakes were reducing. At Wigan, I thought Johnstone put them under unnecessary pressure at times so there were a few more incidents, but generally the trend was an improving one in my opinion.
Switch to Wednesday and we realise what a massive miss Hegazi was. Moore started with Tosin in the middle, supposedly the better ball player, but quickly switched him with Dawson, but it didn’t really improve things. That, coupled with the returning Matt Phillips prone to getting further forward more that Mears ever had and the spaces were there. The big difference was that Derby had the players to capitalise on the errors, and they did so effectively. Add in the absence of Jake Livermore, and it was almost a perfect storm with the unfamiliar line up, the high press, and an opposition with the ability to take advantage. As it was the first two goals were not down to the high press – the first was just a rank bad pass from Rodriguez while the second was well taken although Dawson could have done better but was left alone with Phillips caught up field.
Albion did have chances and, had Rodriguez played a better ball when he dispossessed Keogh at 2-0 down, had Gayle been awarded the penalty, it could have been a very different game. Having said that, I don’t agree with Big Dave’s comment that his team were “in the ascendancy”, but I also don’t believe that 4-1 was a fair reflection.
Returning to the question of Darren Moore’s position, I just cannot believethat sacking him is even a consideration, and this is nothing to do with who he is and his previous association with the club. At the time of his appointment, I thought it was a risk on both sides but four months later, I think it was the right choice. Getting Graeme Jones as his number two was a masterstroke and I can only see the squad getting better over time with those two in charge, both in terms of new additions and in improvements to the players that are there.
I don’t agree with every decision that they have made, I would like to have seen more of the youngsters, for example, but I’m not seeing them on the training pitch every week and I trust Moore and Jones to make the right calls. Their record to date is good.
It may be relatively early days, but Darren Moore’s win ratio, for example, is better than any of Albion’s permanent managers except Jesse Carver whose early 1950s squad was somewhat better than the current version. He has turned the club around from the fractured disaster area he took on to group of players and staff that are united in moving the club forward, committed to the change of style and approach that is being implemented, and by and large successful.
The only area that is not united is the fan base, and that is a shame. We can all see the problems but, as I said in my article last month, it’s entertaining and I’m far happier now than I was following a club under Tony Pulis. I did see one post on Facebook this week that pointed out that Middlesbrough had only conceded seven goals this season and suggesting that he would prefer to be watching them. Not me – Albion have scored twice as many goals as Boro and, while the goals against column isn’t good enough, I’m sure we’re getting much more entertainment than the fans at the Riverside and they’re only two points better off.
We are not a third of the way through the season yet, and I still have faith that Albion are doing more right than wrong, and it still could be good enough to get promotion. As I’ve said, I wasn’t expecting promotion this season, I was hopeful and I am more hopeful now because of the start we have made.
In my opinion, the Derby result was a perfect storm and how the team, and the coaching staff, react will give us an idea of whether this squad is capable of winning promotion this season. To date, Moore and Jones have persisted with the approach in spite of the errors that were being made, and I’m not expecting them to change just yet. Hegazi was a massive miss on Wednesday night, as was Livermore, and I just can’t see a repeat of that result if those players are back.
I’m not blind to the faults of the first choice back three, and Sam Johnstone on occasion, but much of the criticism has been excessive. I do think we need a natural left footer to play on the left side, and I’d like to think that is top of Moore’s January shopping list, and we need to see the errors at the back reducing. It is a high risk approach, however, and we will see errors, it’s the nature of the beast. Big Dave pointed out that Derby too made errors, but on the night, Frank Lampard’s team were better at exploiting them.
The immediacy of opinion on social media presents the picture of a divided fan base and, perhaps, a lean towards a general view against the manager, but I’m not sure whether that is accurate. As I said earlier, the angriest are the loudest, and I’m hoping that the vast majority of those inside the stadium on Saturday will be 100% behind Big Dave and the team, and ready to roar them on to victory!