Weather permitting, Albion will be supported by a sell-out following in excess of 2,000 at Vicarage Road on Saturday afternoon for what could see the end of Alan Pardew’s days at the Hawthorns. However, it won’t take Miss Marple to work out whodunit, this is very much a case of suicide.
While many Baggies fans seem to be resigned to relegation, it doesn’t seem to stop them supporting the team in numbers. To be fair, I think the fans have been extraordinarily supportive to Alan Pardew since he came to the club, despite the reservations of many as to whether he was the right appointment. He has come in for criticism in the past couple of weeks, but I think the fans have got behind the side in the early stages of even those recent matches against Southampton and Huddersfield.
The main news this week is that criticism of Pardew is not confined to the stands, but has come from inside the dressing room. Chris Brunt was reportedly blunt in his criticisms of Pardew’s tactics against Huddersfield after the game last week, and also criticised the application and effort of his team mates, in what was an unusual outburst. I have called for Brunt to be reinstated as captain following Taxigate, and this is just the sort of attitude that you would expect from a strong captain, although it would be preferable to keep it confined to the dressing room. How it was leaked, or who by, is not clear, and while it may be regrettable, it does seem to have galvanised the Head Coach into action if reports in The Mirror are to be believed. He is apparently set to return the long-serving Ulsterman to the starting line-up in a change to a 3-5-2 formation, although it seems unlikely that he will make Brunt captain.
Ironically, it was the switch to a 3-5-2 formation, along with the signing of Kieran Gibbs, that saw Brunt lose his place in the first place under Tony Pulis. With Gibbs as wing back, there was no place for Brunt on the left with Pulis preferring a midfield three of Barry, Krychowiak and Livermore. Adding Brunt’s creativity to that midfield three does seem to be a sensible option in the absence of a fit recognised number ten, but we wait to see what Pardew’s actual line up will be.
Should Pardew decide to start Gareth Barry once again, he could face a barrage of abuse from the away fans even before kick off. Sam Field would be the popular choice and, given that the beleaguered Head Coach has little to lose, it would seem something of a no-brainer. The other key decision is what to do on the right side of midfield. If he is planning a back three of, presumably, Evans, Hegazi and Dawson, there is no obvious option as right wing-back. Phillips has been played there in the past but, given that he is not that strong defensively and has been poor in recent weeks, it might be worth looking at other options. It probably will be a choice between McClean and Nyom unless Pardew is going to go all out and play Oliver Burke from the start, which could leave Dawson somewhat exposed.
Pardew is in the Last Chance Saloon so he may as well roll the dice with something different. Defeat will almost certainly see the former Palace manager shown the door, while a win will produce at least a stay of execution. A draw? Who knows? I guess it will depend on the nature of the performance. There are still ten games to go, so a draw is not necessarily the end of the road, but it does mean that we might need points against some of the top four during the run in.
Various pundits in the national press and on TV have been having a field day this week criticising Pardew, Brunt, the fans, the board and just about everyone associated with the club. Most views show a complete lack of understanding of what has happened in the past six months, particularly those who maintain that Pulis should have stayed. Having said that, I know some Albion fans agree with that view, but the atmosphere was toxic back in November and there is no way that Pulis could’ve continued in my opinion.
And then there is the assertion that Pardew’s tenure has been a complete disaster. For me, it’s only the last month that has been a disaster. The results obviously show a worse league record than Pulis had this season, but anyone who watched the majority of those games will know that, up to the Southampton league game, the performances were better and the results were starting to come. To label his reign as a total disaster is unfair, but his authority has waned in the last few weeks and his stubbornness in selection has been his undoing. It does seem that it is perhaps the right time to make a change.
That, of course, presupposes that there is an appropriate candidate to replace him. The club will then need to decide whether to appoint someone until the end of the season and then choose a long term replacement once the club’s situation is known and there may be a wider selection available, or to go for a long term appointment now. The former option is perhaps most likely, as it offers less risk and greater flexibility, but arguably less likelihood of survival given that the best candidates are unlikely to accept a three-month contract.
Before that, of course, we have the match with Watford to get through. Sitting in 10th place with 33 points, it seems unlikely that the Hornets will be drawn into the relegation dogfight, although another run of six defeats in seven games, like the one in December that ultimately led the end to Marco Silva’s tenure at Vicarage Road, could lead to some nervous glances to the lower reaches of the table.
The meeting between the sides at the Hawthorns at the end of September was the third successive Premier League home draw for the Baggies and, while they remained unbeaten on their own patch in the league at that point, it was one of the early signs that all was not well in the camp as they surrendered a 2-0 lead with Richarlison equalising deep into stoppage time. Such capitulations are one of the main reasons why Albion are in the position they are, having lost a massive 18 points from winning positions this season.
New Hornets’ boss, Javi Gracia, has had a mixed set of results since his appointment five weeks ago. He recorded his second victory with a 1-0 win over Everton on Saturday, with his other three points coming courtesy of an impressive 4-1 thumping of Chelsea four weeks ago. It does mean that Gracia has a 100% record at Vicarage Road, but has just picked up one draw on the road at Stoke, losing at Southampton in the FA Cup in his first game in charge and at West Ham in the league.
The Baggies last win at Vicarage Road was in 2007 when Tony Mowbray’s side went to the home of the league leaders, then managed by Adie Boothroyd, and taught them a footballing lesson winning comfortably thanks to goals from Ishmael Miller, former Watford striker, Kevin Phillips, and Martin Albrechtsen. In the four meetings in Hertfordshire since then, three have ended all square with the hosts winning last season’s encounter 2-0.
Albion still have the upper hand over The Hornets on their own soil in the league having won seven times at Vicarage Road to Watford’s six, although the hosts have won both cup encounters. Graham Taylor’s side of the early eighties tended to beat the Baggies at home, but last season’s defeat for Tony Pulis’s team ended a run of just one defeat in twelve league visits to Vicarage Road dating back to October 1989.
The first meeting between the sides in Watford was on 11th September 1982 when Graham Taylor’s team beat Ron Wylie’s Albion 3-0 thanks to a brace from Luther Blissett, who played for Albion towards the end of his career, and another from Les Taylor. The Baggies first win on the ground came in May 1985 – Taylor was still in charge at Vicarage Road, but it was Johnny Giles that led Albion to a 2-0 win with goals from Garry Thompson (who went on to play for Watford) and Gary Owen.
The 3-0 win in 2007 is the Baggies biggest win in Watford, while the Hornets’ record victory over Albion was 5-1 in August 1985 when four of the goals were scored by players that would go on to represent the Baggies. Colin West scored a hat-trick while Brian Talbot also found the net. Steve Terry scored Watford’s other goal while Imre Varadi grabbed a consolation for the visitors.
If Albion do win at Watford this weekend, it will be Chris Brunt that we will have to thank, not Alan Pardew. Given the performance last time out, I would be very surprised if enough of the players can raise their games to the required level, so I’m expecting a home win, and bye bye Mr Pardew.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
30 Sep 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Rondón, Evans)
Watford 2 (Doucouré, Richarlison)
Last meeting at Watford
4 Apr 2017 – Premier League
Watford 2 (Niang, Deeney)
West Brom 0
3 Dec 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Evans, Brunt, Phillips)
Watford 1 (Kabasele)
Last win at Watford
3 Nov 2007 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Miller, Phillips, Albrechtsen)
Albion’s Record against Watford
|Premier League Record|