Tony Pulis could put out his most attacking line up ever at London Road on Wednesday evening – not because he feels it will be the best way to win the match, but because he may just run out of defenders.
There is something of a defensive injury crisis at the Hawthorns, with previous injuries to Chris Brunt and Jonny Evans added to by knocks to Jonas Olsson, Craig Dawson and Gareth McAuley. If none of those are fit, it could leave James Chester, Sébastien Pocognoli and, dare I say it, Christian Gamboa as Albion’s only fit defenders in the senior squad. Somehow, however, I think Pulis will find a way to play a defensive line up!
I wasn’t at St James’s Park on Saturday, but by all reports, the Albion performance plumbed new depths and, while players may have been off form, and Rondón’s misplaced pass in injury time was perhaps indicative of that, I put the blame for the Baggies current malaise firmly at the door of Tony Pulis.
I remain at a loss as to why Pocognoli failed to get into the starting line up on Saturday – how a can centre back, converted to a right back, can be a preference at left back when you have an international specialist on the bench, particularly when Dawson’s replacement at right back was James Chester, a centre back who has looked uncomfortable every time he has played there. Admittedly, the Belgian was disappointing in the first game against Peterborough, but is it any wonder that he’s a bit rusty.
But even more bemusing is the make up of what can be laughingly referred to as the “front six”. Against Swansea, Pulis treated us to the bizarre sight of Darren Fletcher as an “attacking” midfielder but at least we had Sessègnon to offer a creative spark, at least until he was unforgivably substituted. On Saturday, however, not only did we have the same defensive midfield three of Sandro, Yacob and Fletcher, but they were supplemented by the sparkling attacking talents of Craig Gardner. Is it any wonder that Albion failed to register a single shot on target for the third game in four?
Many Albion fans have been bemoaning the lack of attacking intent for some months now, but the national press have now started to comment in earnest at just how badly Albion are playing. When the likes of Leicester and Watford, clubs that we would have looked down on two seasons ago, are winning plaudits by playing attractive attacking and, more importantly, successful football, the words of sympathy I get when I admit to being a Baggies fan are becoming embarrassing.
I’ve heard many a Pulis supporter say that he knows what he’s doing, and at the moment, I still think we’ll be safe this season, but a repeat of Saturday’s display will leave me with some serious doubts. I’m beginning to think that the Welshman has forgotten that we get three points for a win as he sends out teams who have little hope of winning.
Albion have got some good results this season, but I believe those have been achieved in spite of Tony Pulis, not because of him. Albion may be hard to score against, but most of the time you only need to do it once. I believe that if Pulis is still in charge in the summer, season ticket sales will be down by at least a third. Saturday’s lowest ever home attendance in the Premier League must have sounded the warning bells for Jeremy Peace. It may not be time to act just yet, but he should start thinking of who to turn to next.
And so to this week’s game. Posh completed the double over relegation threatened, Chesterfield, on Saturday winning 1-0 at the Proact Stadium so that will have given them more confidence following their draw at the Hawthorns. They will be facing Albion for the second home game in succession having lost 1-0 to League One leaders, Burton Albion, in their previous match at London Road.
With a trip to Reading between the winners and the quarter final, Albion fans should be getting excited, but displays in recent weeks have dampened enthusiasm and even the prospect of a second successive appearance in the last eight of the FA Cup may not be enough to rouse them. Let’s face, there is little confidence in being able to overcome a League One side, let along a Championship one.
If there was a mini-injury crisis last week, it is a full blown one now. Brunt, Morrison, Evans and McManaman remain sidelined and, as discussed earlier, Olsson, McAuley and Dawson are all doubts for this match.
For the hosts, Michael Smith and Ricardo Santos will serve suspensions while recent signing from Albion, Adil Nabi, is ineligible. Jack Baldwin is doubtful while Congolese defender Gabriel Zakuani is fit again following a hamstring injury.
Surely there must be some sort of reaction to the defeat to Newcastle – I can’t see Albion can performing any worse. Can they?
Whatever team Pulis selects should be able to beat Peterborough comfortably, but I can see this going all the way but Albion will squeak through, maybe on penalties.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
30 Jan 2016 – FA Cup 4th Round
West Brom 2 (Berahino (2))
Peterborough United 2 (Coulthirst, Taylor)
Last meeting at Peterborough United
18 Aug 2009 – League Championship
Peterborough United 2 (Mackail-Smith, McLean)
West Brom 3 (Moore (2), Brunt)
26 Dec 2009 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Moore, Bennett (o.g.))
Peterborough United 0
Albion’s Record against Peterborough United