Steve Bruce has not been able to find a solution to the problems at the Hawthorns but this week returns to the club where he enjoyed one of his most successful periods as a manager, Hull City.
When he took over at the KC Stadium, the situation had similarities to that at Albion in that the club had been relegated from the Premier League but struggled to challenge for promotion – at the KC, there had been two seasons outside the top flight finishing in midtable positions before Bruce joined in the summer of 2012 and won automatic promotion at the first time of asking. He kept them in the top flight the following season before suffering relegation and immediate promotion back to the Premier League via the play-offs in 2016. With apparent frustration at a lack of transfer activity, Bruce resigned that summer.
His impact at the Hawthorns has, so far, been far short of that he enjoyed at the Tigers. In fact, there is a a strong argument to say that it has got worse, particularly at the back. It may be only five games, but Bruce’s efforts to solve Albion’s goalscoring issues have not only failed, but they have led to an alarming drop off in the defensive organisation.
Under Ismaël, the one thing that did work was the defence. When the Frenchman left, the Baggies had conceded just 24 goals in 29 games, an average of 0.83 goals per game, the best record in the division at the time. In the last five games, Albion have conceded 8 goals, an average of 1.6 per game. Even if you only take Val’s period of poor results from the beginning of November, the goals conceded was just 10 in 14, still far better than that achieved under Bruce.
Not only is it that the Baggies are conceding goals, but it is the type of goals that is doubly concerning. I thought the analysis by Ronan Thompson from @WBAReport below was excellent in showing how the goals conceded since Bruce joined have been alarmingly simple to score thanks to some massive holes in Albion’s back line.
🚨 Bruce Appraisal: Long Thread 🧵
Disclaimer: Our current form cannot be fully attributed to Bruce. The players have let us down game after game for 5 months.
But Bruce has been inexcusably inept so far. In this thread I’ll analyse my issues with his short tenure…
1 of 21 pic.twitter.com/amWsgwuJ93
— Ronan Thompson (@RonanTJourno) March 3, 2022
Highlighting the problems is one thing, finding solutions is another. Steve Bruce seems determined to rely on the senior experienced pros to get Albion out of the current malaise, but this is a group of players that have been failing fairly consistently since the return of football in June 2020.
In his pre-match press conference, he has confirmed that the apparently contrite Jake Livermore will return to the team following a four match suspension, reclaiming the captain’s armband. There will be many fans that will be livid with that decision, if not unsurprised, given that Livermore has let the club down in this way on numerous occasions and the only coach who felt able to punish him in any way was Sam Allardyce.
Unlike some, I actually think Livermore is probably out best central midfielder on his day so I can understand why Bruce wants to play him, but his inability to control himself when the chips are down make him a liability and certainly not worthy of the captaincy. But Bruce, who also managed him at Hull City a decade ago, feels that he can make a difference.
Taylor Gardner-Hickman’s omission from the starting line up continues to baffle fans, and Bruce shed some light on the decision with his belief that his strengths are as a right-sided defender, a position that has been occupied by either Darnell Furlong or Dara O’Shea in his time at the club. His comment that “I believe he’s played in midfield but I think if you ask anybody in the youth team or academy area they will say full-back is his best position.” suggests that he has not done the basic research a new manager should do in watching his team’s matches from earlier in the season. Gardner-Hickman’s man-of-the-match performance in central midfield at Coventry was even televised live on Sky so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find the footage – I’ve probably still got it on my Sky box, Steve, if you want to take a look! Y es, his best position may be as a right-back, but when you are struggling in central midfield as Albion have done in every game under Bruce, trying something different that has worked before is surely worth a go?
I was not averse to Bruce’s appointment as I felt the club needed someone with experience of getting promotion from the Championship and who could hit the ground running. However, I have been sorely disappointed with what he has been able to achieve so far. While the players are obviously a massive part of the problem, his inability to get any sort of impact and his apparent determination to keep trying the same failing tactics and personnel are bewildering for a manager of his experience. I have serious doubts as to whether he has done any sort of background research into the performance of the club over the past couple of years, and that would seem to be essential for any new manager.
Without a distinct change in thinking, I am struggling to see any reason why the result on Saturday will be any different to those we have seen on the last five away games, even though we are playing a team that has won just one of their last seven games. I can only hope that I am wrong.
Albion have lost just one of the last ten meetings with Hull City, but given the current Baggies’ side’s propensity for breaking records, I wouldn’t read too much into that!. That defeat came at the KC Stadium in November 2018 when Frazier Campbell scored the only goal of the game to inflict a fifth league defeat on Darren Moore’s Albion leaving them in seventh place (remember being in touch with the play-offs?).
That is one of only two defeats that the Tigers have exacted on Albion at their new stadium, the other being a Premier League fixture that finished 2-0 in March 2014 when current Baggies boss, Steve Bruce, was in charge of Hull. Albion won on their first two visits to the new stadium, both under Tony Mowbray in 2007 and 2008 – the 3-1 win achieved in January 2008 thanks to goals from Kevin Phillips, James Morrison and Roman Bednár is the Baggies’ biggest at any of Hull’s grounds.
Of City’s three grounds, Analby Road, where they played until the switch to Boothferry Park in 1946, was the one where Albion enjoyed the least success, with just one win in eleven visits between 1905 and 1929. It was there that the Tigers recorded their biggest win over Albion, a 5-1 victory in April 1910 when, remarkably, all the home scorers were called Smith. Jackie Smith scored a hat trick while Hull’s other goals were scored by Wally Smith and Joe Smith – the visiting goalscorer spoiled the Smith party by being called George Simpson.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
3 Nov 2021 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Grant)
Hull City 0
Last meeting at Hull City
9 Nov 2019 – League Championship
Hull City 0
West Brom 1 (Livermore)
Albion’s Record against Hull City
If you cannot see the tables, click here.