Until Saturday, I retained a modicum of hope that Albion could find the results necessary to stay in the Premier League, but what I saw against Huddersfield has changed my mind. It was not so much the result as the nature of the performance and, perhaps more importantly, Alan Pardew’s team selection that has left me disillusioned.
I said last week that I couldn’t see what sacking Pardew would achieve, but after Saturday, I can’t wait to see him leave. If reports are to be believed, he will remain in charge until after the trip to Watford, although I fail to see what another game will prove. It seems that the lack of obvious replacements is keeping him in a job.
It was only four weeks ago that the Baggies put in a fantastic performance to knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup and, while their league results have never really improved under Pardew, January saw a string of good performances and I fully expected Albion to kick on and move away from the bottom three.
The change in atmosphere, attitude and application in the last month is stark, and it is tempting to put much of it on Pardew’s decision to take the squad to Barcelona. Even without the Cab Four debacle, it does seem like a strange decision to go ahead with the trip knowing that it would only be for three days after the win at Anfield, particularly given the reported dissatisfaction of some players concerning the clash with schools’ half term.
If the decision to go ahead with the trip was misguided, the decisions that Pardew has taken since then have gone from bad to worse. As I said last week, we don’t actually know for sure what happened beyond the admission that the players broke curfew, but if the stories are anywhere near the truth, the culprits have been let off lightly. And therein is potentially the source of the problem.
The squad will know exactly what happened, and Pardew’s decision to continue playing the offenders in spite of their actions, and then to compound it by reinstating Evans as captain and starting Barry once again on Saturday can only have antagonised the rest of the squad.
I will reiterate what I have said in my last two blogs that Chris Brunt should be made captain immediately. He is the only player that commands respect from his teammates and from the fans, as was aptly demonstrated by his show of appreciation to the fans after the match on Saturday. His reported outburst in the dressing room after the match, including criticism of his teammates’ effort and the head coach’s tactics, should’ve made Pardew realise what an asset Brunt is to the club and the team. However, the episode may have bruised his ego and it probably destroyed any lingering respect that the players may have had for him and, subsequently, the fear is that his arrogance will prevent him from taking Brunt’s outpouring of emotion in the way they were meant, and he may continue to sideline him.
However, Pardew looked a beaten man in his post-match interview, and he is likely to try anything to try and save his job, or perhaps more importantly for him, his reputation.
Perhaps a worse decision was the one to start Gareth Barry against Huddersfield, and then to not substitute him until the 69th minute. I said last week that I felt that he should not play another game for Albion after his inept display against Southampton, and I find it hard to understand what he could have done in the week between games to justify his place in the team. He was equally incompetent from the first minute against the Terriers, and he was lucky to be still on the field at half time in my opinion. Pardew should have withdrawn him for his own protection, as the reception he got when he was substituted could not have done him any good. Heaven help him if Pardew starts him at Watford.
Whether it is the impact of Barcelona is unclear, but the drop off in performances has been replicated across much of the team. Krychowiak’s displays have dropped back to pre-Pardew levels, Rodriguez seems to have lost something (whether that is down to the Bong case or Pardew’s decision to drop him for Sturridge is unclear), Hegazi seems to have had a drop off in concentration levels while Matt Phillips is somehow retaining his place despite having a month or more of well below-par performances. James McClean will always try hard, but his lack of ability was exposed on Saturday, while Kieran Gibbs is a shadow of the player he was a couple of months ago.
Only Chris Brunt, Salomon Rondón and Ben Foster have maintained a steady level of performance this year, and Brunty can’t get in the side.
And it is this drop off in performance and application more than the results that have led me to the conclusion that Pardew cannot turn the club around. A month ago, I was confident that he could, and a committed performance against Huddersfield might have restored that confidence, but as I saw against the same side in West Yorkshire in November, with a couple of notable exceptions, it was a team devoid of confidence in themselves and their manager.
I maintain that the decision to sack Pulis was the right one, if six months too late, and I do not subscribe to the idea that Albion would have stayed up with him in charge. Pardew has turned out to be a bad appointment, although the initial signs were promising; I said at the time that it was perhaps the best of the “safe” appointments that the board seemed willing to consider, but I was in favour of something a little braver. If you compare that appointment with the one made by Swansea, it is a stark difference, but then you can also look at the appointments made by West Ham and Everton that seem, for the moment at least, to be working.
I can understand why they went for Pardew, but they’ve paid for it with their jobs and it looks increasingly like West Bromwich Albion will pay for it with its Premier League status.