Albion welcome Tottenham Hotspur to the Hawthorns on Sunday for their eighth match of the Premier League campaign still in search of their first victory.
Only in 2004 have they had to wait so long for a Premier League victory, and it is the worst start to an Albion season since 1985 when the Baggies had to wait until game 13 for their first win.
That season, a run of nine successive league defeats saw the board make the decision to change manager, with Johnny Giles replaced by the recently departed, Nobby Stiles. Nowadays, such decisions seem to be taken much more quickly and the calls for Slaven Bilić’s head are already getting louder following Monday’s defeat at Fulham.
Some in the national media have gone as far as to suggest that the Croatian’s job may depend on victory this weekend which, given that you can get as much as 6/1 on a Baggies win. suggests that the writing is already on the wall. I’m not sure I believe such reports, but it is difficult to assess what the owners might be thinking given their silence and, if you believe some stories that have been circulating of late, that the identity of those in control of the club is in doubt.
Nonetheless, I feel that dispensing with Bilić at this stage would be both premature and unfair. Looking at the entirety of his tenure, he was hired on a two year project to regain Premier League status, a goal he achieved in one season despite a pandemic that certainly had a negative impact on Albion’s season. This summer, he has been given a very limited budget and is striving to get a group of inexperienced players to adapt to Premier League football.
Ironically, Bilić has put himself in this situation by getting promoted a year early. Outgoing Chief Executive, Mark Jenkins, may have felt that it was essential for Albion to be promoted last season for financial reasons, but it was probably too early from a footballing point of view.
Yes, he has made mistakes and, based on their last game, the team looks some way short of what is required, but he can only do so much with the resources at his disposal and there have been signs in most games this season that there is reason for hope.
It doesn’t get any easier for Bilić, however, with José Mourinho’s Spurs next up, the division’s top scorers this season having already recorded 5-2 and 6-1 victories on the road. They have lost just once in the league this season, an opening day home defeat to Everton, and the prolific partnership of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min has been strengthened by the return of Gareth Bale, the man who scored the winner on his last trip to the Hawthorns in February 2013.
While Spurs are obviously one of the best sides in the Premier League, Bilić will need to see a reaction to the dismal display at Fulham. There was unexpected lack of application at the Cottage, something the Croat said was not expecting after the week’s training. It would be harsh to judge any reaction of the result of Sunday’s game, but a battling performance is a must.
On their last visit to the Hawthorns, Spurs were beaten by a late Jake Livermore goal in the sort of committed display that is required this weekend. Bilić and his coaching team will be aiming come up with a tactical plan to engineer the same result.
Having stuck with the same starting line up for the last two games, I think we can expect to see changes on Sunday/ However, given the poor performances across the park against Fulham, it’s difficult to make any sort of prediction as to what the starting eleven will look like.
Whatever players are selected, they need to put in a much improved display if they are to prove that they want the Croat to remain in charge. The noises from the camp have always been positive throughout Bilić’s time at the club – they all need to come together now.
Any positive result against Spurs would be massive, but a positive performance is a must.