Albion thumped as Bielsa gains revenge

Leeds United 4 West Brom 0

Albion’s hopes of automatic promotion suffered a hammer blow at Elland Road as Leeds United produced a display of committed, pacey football that proved far too much for Darren Moore’s team and saw Marcelo Bielsa gain revenge for the defeat at the Hawthorns in November.

It was a bad night, and it has made automatic promotion even more difficult, but calls for Darren Moore to be sacked are utterly ridiculous in my opinion and Albion remain well placed for a play-off finish.  The Baggies fans need to get behind Big Dave and the team to roar them on to the minimum of a top six finish.

In November, Moore engineered a tactical switch to earn a 4-1 win over Marcelo Bielsa’s table-topping team in what was a pivotal result that turned around Albion’s fortunes.  This fixture could once again be pivotal as it was Bielsa’s team who completely outclassed the Baggies to return to the top of the Championship, albeit briefly.

In hindsight, it’s easy to point to tactical mistakes that were made.  Adarabioyo never looked comfortable at left back and Townsend may have been a better option, but Tosin had done well in his recent appearances.

The midfield three of Barry, Livermore and Harper were way too slow in their movement and passing and were overrun as the Leeds midfield snapped into every challenge.  For me, it may have been a game for the energy and combativeness of Stefan Johansen, and I feel he should definitely have been on the bench.  Moore opted to have both Murphy and Montero in the squad which left no place for the Norwegian captain with the five loan rule.

Albion’s midfield had been performing well away from home, but they had not come up against an attack with the energy and pace of the Leeds midfield.  They were quicker to every ball and swarmed over the Baggies showing no sign of having played just three days earlier.

I was encouraged that Hal Robson-Kanu was back in the side.  He had played extremely well in the reverse fixture, and he offers the ability to hold up the ball better than anyone else at the club but, like Rodriguez and Gayle alongside him, he was starved of service. 

It was a thoroughly chastening experience for the Baggies fans who had paid an extortionate £39 to sit in a 60-year-old stand, but we should not lose hope.

We already knew that things needed to change tactically at home and, while we will not come up against another side like Leeds before the end of the season, it looks like we might also need a re-think on the road.  However, we should not forget what led to Albion winning eight of their previous nine games on the road.

The top two may prove to be a step too far, although there are still enough games left for there to be an outside chance.  Moreover, the Baggies remain well-placed for the play-offs which was, in my opinion, as good as we should have expected at the beginning of the season.

For me, that is what I find so incredulous about some of the criticism aimed at Moore and the players this season.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t believe any other manager could have united this club after the debacle that was last season, followed by what was not the easiest summer.  You only have to look at where the other two relegated clubs are to know how well Albion are currently doing.

The argument that is frequently brought up is that Albion have the best squad in the league.  In pre-season, everyone looked at the “good business” Stoke City had done and there was a general feeling that they had the best squad in the Championship, but no one thinks that now as they sit in 16th place.  The Baggies have a strong squad, but so do Villa, Forest and Derby, not to mention Leeds, Norwich and Sheffield United.

Darren Moore is not perfect, but no manager is.  He is making mistakes and will continue to do so, as will his players – it’s the nature of football.   For me, however, he is doing a great job and I hope he is at the helm of our club for a long time to come.  He has got the team playing great football, entertaining the fans, and on track to meet what I think was a realistic target for this season, to finish in the top six.

There is no divine right to promotion.  It’s a strong squad, but if you actually honestly believe that we should be running away with this league, you are, quite frankly, utterly deluded.  It’s a tough league and Albion may well not get out of it this time around and, yes, that probably will make it harder to win promotion next season.  That’s just how it is.

Just because we have some decent “Premier League quality” players, doesn’t make it easy to win promotion – you only have to look at the record of relegated clubs in recent years to know that.  Before this season, only nine of the previous thirty teams relegated from the Premier League have been promoted at the first attempt, including the Baggies in 2010, of course.  That’s just under one each year, and I think it’s safe to assume that only Albion have a chance this season!

They will have a much better chance with a united set of fans supporting them for the rest of the season, and I urge every Baggie to get behind Darren Moore and the team.  Leeds have had their troubles this season, but the atmosphere at Elland Road was incredible on Friday night – if we can recreate that at the Hawthorns, surely it can only help.

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