Just over thirteen years ago, Gary Megson led his West Bromwich Albion team out in an away Premier League game in London; the Baggies lost 3-0 at Selhurst Park and three days later, Megson was dismissed. On Saturday, he will once again take charge of Albion in an away Premier League game in the capital, albeit in a caretaker role, this time at Wembley against Tottenham Hotspur.
There can’t be many teams to have played at Wembley under a caretaker manager, and it will be Megson’s first ever full game at Wembley as either a player or manager. He did take part in the little-known Mercantile Credit Centenary Tournament at Wembley in April 1988 while playing for Sheffield Wednesday, but as the games were only 40 or 60 minutes long, it doesn’t really count.
It will, however, be the 49th time that the Yorkshireman has led Albion into a Premier League fixture, although it remains to be seen as to whether he will make the half century with the club weighing up their options in terms of a permanent manager. With Alan Pardew the clear favourite at the time of writing, I’m hoping that Megson is still on the hot seat on Tuesday evening as it will be a sign that the board are considering other options! However, with my personal favourite, Derek McInnes, apparently having ruled himself out according to the Dons chairman, Stewart Milne, and former West Ham and Croatia boss, Slaven Bilić, having reportedly turned down an approach from the Albion board, it looks like the former Reading, Southampton, Newcastle and Palace manager is in the prime position.
Megson won only seven of his Premier League matches with the Baggies, and it will be a tall order for him to increase that number this weekend as they face a Spurs side that have won five of their last six games in all competitions at their temporary home, the only aberration being the shock 3-2 defeat to West Ham in the Carabao Cup. Albion, meanwhile, are on a run of four straight defeats, lost both of their previous appearances at the new Wembley Stadium and are on a run of one win in fifteen matches against Tottenham.
That win came at White Hart Lane three years ago, and another way of looking at the Baggies’ recent record against Spurs is that they have only been beaten twice in the last eight meetings and last season’s 4-0 thumping was their first defeat at White Hart Lane in five visits.
Of course, given the recent form of both sides, the hosts will be firm favourites and Albion will need to improve hugely on their recent performances to get anything from the game. Spurs have struggled to break down well organised sides on occasion this season with both Palace and Bournemouth only succumbing to 1-0 defeats at Wembley this season, while Swansea and Burnley have both taken a point from their visits to the national stadium. However, for most of this season, Albion have been a long way from the solid defensive unit that Pulis is so famous for as last week’s drubbing by Chelsea demonstrated, and if Pochettino’s side play to anything like their potential, it will be a very long afternoon for the Baggies’ back line.
Although it will be largely academic in the long term, it will be interesting to see whether Megson makes any dramatic tactical changes to the approach that Pulis has persisted with this season. The three defensive midfielders has been a particular bone of contention with the Baggies’ fans this season, and the decision to play Phillips as a wing back last weekend was particularly confusing, and especially ironic given that he had played as a lone striker for Scotland the week before.
Arsenal showed last week that Tottenham can be unsettled by a well organised high press, and while I don’t expect Albion to adopt a similar tactic, it would be good to have something more of an outlet than a long ball up to an isolated Salomón Rondón. Megson was a proponent of the 5-3-2 formation in his previous spell at the Hawthorns, an approach that has come back into fashion in the last year or so, but one of the midfield three was always an attacking player with the likes of Jordao, Scott Dobie or Jason Koumas filling that position, so maybe we could see Chadli or Phillips in the middle of the park.
If the Ginger One does make significant changes, it will reinforce the feeling that I have that Pulis is an incredibly stubborn coach – he certainly rarely tried anything different over his three years despite mixed results. As for Megson himself, he doesn’t seem to want to suffer any other voice on the training pitch now that Pulis has gone as he reportedly ordered fellow coach, Ben Garner, to stay away from the training ground. Further signs that all is not well amongst the staff and the sooner there is a new broom at the Hawthorns, the better.
As for the home side, they bounced back well from defeat in the North London Derby by winning at Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund on Tuesday evening. There remain slight doubts on whether star players Harry Kane and Dele Alli are 100% fit, although Kane was on the scoresheet in Germany, while Wanyama and Alderweireld will both miss out through injury. Pochettino will still feel that Spurs have a chance of challenging for the title, but last week’s defeat left them in fourth spot some eleven points behind the runaway leaders, Manchester City, and they will certainly feel that three points is a must against Albion.
Amazingly enough, Albion have only lost two of their nine Premier League games under caretaker managers. Frank Burrows, who took over when Megson was sacked in 2004 lost his first game in charge, a 4-1 home defeat to José Mourinho’s Chelsea, and Keith Downing lost his final game in charge 1-0 at Southampton before the appointment of Pepe Mel in January 2014. However, Downing is the only man to have won a Premier League game as an Albion caretaker manager, a 1-0 home win over Newcastle United, with the other six games under caretakers finishing all square.
However, I can’t see Megson becoming the second man to achieve that on Saturday, and indeed I think the home side will win it comfortably and the new manager could well be taking over a side in the bottom three.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
14 Jan 2017 – Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur 4 (Kane (3), McAuley (o.g.))
West Brom 0
21 Sep 2014 – Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur 0
West Brom 1 (Morrison)
Albion’s Record against Tottenham Hotspur
|Premier League Record|