Steve McLaren has been a manager under pressure pretty much ever since he took over at St James’s Park in the summer, whereas his adversary on Monday, Tony Pulis, is in that situation for perhaps the first time in his tenure at the Hawthorns following a run of five games without a win.
I’ve made no secret of my dissatisfaction with the appointment of Tony Pulis from Day 1, although I’ve always been prepared to give him a chance to change my mind. I have always thought that we would remain in the Premier League under the Welshman and I’ve not reached a point of changing that opinion just yet – my opposition to Pulis’s appointment was always on the basis of the style of football that he employs, and I’ve rarely seen anything to change my mind on that front.
I would, firstly, like to say that I am not calling for Tony Pulis to be sacked. Perhaps optimistically, I don’t yet think we are yet in danger of relegation, and I think a decision to change manager would be a massive mistake at this stage of the season unless there is a ready replacement lined up and ready to go, which I highly doubt to be the case. However, should the style of football not show a marked improvement before the end of the season, I do think Peace should give the idea some serious thought.
In my preview to the Swansea game, I gave a few potential options for the changes to the starting line up that would have to be made following the suspensions to Rondón and McClean and, while I suspected that Gardner and Lambert might play in those positions, I assumed that Sessègnon would be back in the starting line up following his return from injury. I didn’t think that Pulis could go even more negative and I was horrified to see the starting line up including four centre backs and four central midfielders.
Surely, when you are preparing to play a team without a win in seven games with a caretaker manager, you take advantage of their lack of confidence and don’t allow them to settle into the game. By picking the team that he did, Pulis set the team up to allow Swansea possession – they had time on the ball and grew in confidence, particularly with the opening goal coming so early. Albion were once again chasing the game, but Pulis didn’t give them the tools to do that until there was half an hour to go and, to be honest, it wasn’t until the introduction of McManaman with nine minutes to go, that the team on the pitch was capable of winning the match. Once again, it was a case of too little too late.
Albion’s manager may point to a couple of refereeing decisions that could’ve gone differently, but if you set out a team to just defend, you are relying on everything to go your way – poor decisions and bad luck are part and parcel of football, if you don’t have a Plan B to deal with such eventualities, games will be lost. In my opinion, the first eleven at the Liberty Stadium was set up purely to stop Swansea scoring – when that failed, even if it may be considered a little unfortunate, it meant that Albion had to try to score and the team was simply ill-suited to that task. The Baggies may have come close to retrieving something from the game but, as has happened many times this season, why take the risk that the defensive strategy might not work? Why not go out to score goals from minute one?
It seems clear that Pulis has a poor opinion of Callum McManaman at present, despite the fact that the former Wigan man was Pulis’s first signing at the Hawthorns. He has, however, taken to Sessègnon of late and I’m still at a loss as to why the Benin international did not start the game. As for Berahino, Pulis hinted that the (ex-)England U21 striker was in line for a recall but Lambert got the nod after all.
Perhaps Pulis is planning to start both Berahino and Sessègnon against Newcastle and, if he does and the three points are secured, perhaps their exclusion might be justified, but Albion should have been looking to win both of these games. Pulis has been quoted as saying that Albion went to Swansea to “have a real go” – I just cannot see how his team selection backs that up.
As I’ve said before, I don’t believe that the squad is being utilised properly and the only sensible explanation is that Pulis does not rate that players that have not been given a fair chance. If that is the case, this coming transfer window must be used to freshen the squad and move out those that Pulis does not want and bring in those that he does. Gnabry seems likely to return to Arsenal but the futures of the likes of Pocognoli, Gamboa, Anichebe and McManaman remain uncertain, as does that of “star” striker, Saido Berahino. Peace may be regretting his decision to knock back Daniel Levy’s offer in August, and if Spurs come back with a similar offer, it may well prove successful – Levy, hwoever, may think that the player’s value has dropped significantly given his form this season and another impasse is a real possibility unless another suitor (Chelsea, perhaps?) moves into the frame.
But first we have the match against Newcastle. This is arguably a must-win game for Tony Pulis and, in the eyes of many Albion fans, three points is the only way that the selection at Swansea could be remotely justified. A win either against Newcastle or Stoke on Saturday is surely a minimum requirement given the next two league games are trips to Chelsea and Southampton.
I questioned Pulis after the back-to-back defeats to QPR and Leicester in April last season and the team responded with an unbeaten five game run including wins at Palace, Man Utd and at home to Chelsea. Albion need a similar turnaround in results now.
Newcastle United have a longer injury list than any other Premier League team with ten players either ruled out or doubtful for Monday’s match. Krul, Obertan, Good and Haidara are long term absentees while Aarons, Taylor, Rivière and Cissé seem certain to be out until the New Year. Williamson and Lascelles are touch-and-go for Monday.
Albion are once again free from injury bar Ben Foster who, after Myhill’s unfortunate incident at the Liberty, will be welcomed back hopefully sometime in January.
After the result at Swansea, Pulis will surely have to go for the three points in this match and it has always been my belief that, if they do, they will trouble most sides in the Premier League. Newcastle, with their poor form and long injury list, should be beatable and I’m going for a home win.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
9 May 2015 – Premier League
Newcastle United 1 (Perez)
West Brom 1 (Anichebe)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
9 Nov 2014 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Newcastle United 2 (Perez, Coloccini)
1 Jan 2014 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Berahino (pen))
Newcastle United 0
Albion’s Record against Newcastle United
|Premier League Record|