Albion’s defeat at Hull on Saturday was hugely disappointing, and it was probably as bad a performance as we have seen under Darren Moore’s leadership, but I still maintain that calls for his head are extremely premature.
I’m not saying that Big Dave is perfect, far from it, but the last thing the club needs is further upheaval – three managers in twelve months is more than enough already, and the club needs stability to arrest the slide that set in several years ago..
Some fans seem to think that we should be walking away with this division and that we have a divine right to promotion but West Bromwich Albion Football Club has been in a downward spiral for at least six years as I explored in my article at the end of last season. In my opinion, Big Dave’s tenure is one of the few positives of the last twelve months and is, I hope, the start of a recovery in the Baggies’ fortunes.
However, I am realistic that the turnaround will take time and, when Albion went top of the table at the end of September, I was pleasantly surprised but also cognisant of the fact that it probably wouldn’t last. The Baggies’ challenges at the back have been plain to see all season but I was happy to see some attacking football and lots of goals, such a contrast from the Pulis years of drudgery.
If Albion do get promotion this season, it will be a remarkable achievement given the state the club was in when Darren Moore took over. Furthermore, any hope of staying in the Premier League were that to come about would require a massive investment in the squad, particularly given the fact that the best players this season are on loan from other clubs, and it is an investment that this ownership has so far seemed reluctant to make.
The squad at the Hawthorns is capable of winning promotion, but the biggest issue is that so are the squads of about fifteen other clubs in the Championship. There will be plenty of ups and downs and twists and turns over the coming months and, while it’s true that Albion will need to arrest their current mini-slump quickly if they are to keep up with the leaders, there is nobody in the division at the moment who is yet ruled out of the promotion picture.
Four games without a win is hardly a disaster. Gary Megson’s team endured such runs in all three of his seasons in the second tier, and Tony Mowbray’s team went five games without a win in March 2007, and all four of those seasons ended with Albion in the play-offs at least.
Perhaps closer to Darren Moore’s situation as a first time manager, Johnny Giles took over as player-manager of Albion in the summer of 1975 and hardly hit the ground running. That season, the Baggies went seven league games without a win which saw them drop to as low as 20th place in the first few months of the season, but any Baggies fan over the age of 40 will know that a 1-0 at Boundary Park the following April saw Albion clinch a return to the top flight.
It is a different world these days of course, and giving managers time to build is such a rarity. Today is the 32nd anniversary of the appointment of Alex Ferguson as manager of Manchester United who famously struggled in his first few years before going on to become the most successful boss in the history of English football. I’m not suggesting that Darren Moore is capable of anything like Sir Alex, but surely he deserves a chance to prove that he might be capable of matching Johnny Giles’ first spell at the Hawthorns.
Coming back to the present, I was at the KCOM Stadium on Saturday and it was a very poor display. Albion started reasonably well but as soon as a few passes started going astray, confidence started to ebb away and they became static and safer in their passing in the attacking third and Hull found it easy to repel the Baggies front line. It was a similar story in the second half, a bright start but it soon petered out and the introduction of Sako and Burke had little impact.
Many have suggested that the system has been Albion’s downfall, but Moore has switched to a back four in each of the last four games with little effect. Matt Wilson from the Express and Star suggested in his well balanced analysis piece that this may have led to the players having a lack of confidence in the starting system. I’m not sure I buy that as I think that the players are training to be flexible and able to switch systems mid-game, but there is definitely a confidence problem at the moment.
I think the absence of Dwight Gayle has been an important factor in the past few games as his runs, workrate and trickery on the ball have been hugely missed, but the one thing that struck me on Saturday was the lack of leadership on the pitch.
The fact that Albion started both halves well suggested that whatever Moore and Jones said in the dressing room sent the players out in the right frame of mind, but there has been no one on the field driving his teammates on. Chris Brunt is able to to do that but on Saturday, he went off injured in the first half – I think it was Livermore that took the armband, but he doesn’t seem to have the same force of personality and I didn’t see him or anyone else trying to motivate the team.
Given his age and fitness issues, Brunt cannot be relied on and it is clear to me that Albion need a new skipper. Gareth Barry can do that role, but again he is not going to play every game, and looking at the rest of the squad, I’m struggling to find captain material. Craig Dawson should be an obvious choice, but I’m not convinced his head is where it should be following the summer transfer debacle, and you then look at maybe Hegazi.
The lack of obvious alternative elsewhere is, perhaps, why Brunt and Barry have got so much game time this season despite not offering the mobility that Albion’s playing style really needs. The skipper comes into his own when the chips are down, and without an obvious alternative, one of Barry and Brunt may need to play every game.
The lack of leaders on the pitch is just one of many issues that Darren Moore and his coaching staff are having to find solutions to, and changing manager is not going to alter the situation. This is his first big test and he deserves the opportunity to work through it; further upheaval is the last thing the club needs. What is needed, is a united front starting with maximum support at the Hawthorns on Saturday.