Millwall 2 West Brom 0
Albion’s performance at Millwall was a little better than the abject display against Preston, but the result was the same and it leaves the club hierarchy with decisions to make.
Valérien Ismaël’s position looks increasingly at risk but, at the time of writing more than 24 hours after the end of the Millwall game, there has been no official announcement. If the Frenchman’s dismissal is being considered, the timing will inevitably be complicated by the impending closure of the transfer window and, with no match for another ten days, they might feel able to wait a couple of days. However, the current silence needs to be broken soon, whether by a statement of support or a dismissal.
There are no guarantees that the club will act, of course. The key issue at the club is the lack of football experience on the board, with “consultant” Ron Gourlay the only figure with any sort of football administration know-how, and it is not a straightforward decision. The appointment of Ismaël was brave and the intentions were laudable as Chief Executive Ken put it at the time “For too long we have focused only on what is immediately in front of us. This means we have often neglected our long-term aspirations.” However, the aim of achieving this alongside the aim of returning to the Premier League looks to be in serious doubt as a run of one win in seven games has left them on the verge of dropping out of the play-off places.
With 27 games still to play, there is time to turn it around, but the last two performances suggest that it will be very difficult with Ismaël at the helm. I have backed the Frenchman this season, but the players seem to have given up based on the last two games and if the club want to have a chance of promotion this season, I think that a change needs to be made.
At Millwall, the opening ten minutes looked much better and, had Andy Carroll converted the chance he had early on, it may have been a very different game. That proved to be their only real chance of the game as the first half soon descended into a war of attrition, and the second period was dominated by Millwall. There were brief positive signs when Diangana and Robinson came on, but the hosts opened the scoring soon afterwards and Albion never looked like getting back into the game.
If the club do decide to double-down on their summer decision and keep Val in place, it would signal a failure to recognise that the relationship between their head coach and the players has broken down, and would risk even more open revolt from the fans. Some of the scenes at the New Den were unacceptable, such as the throwing of flares and seats, and the vandalism to the toilets, and I hope that the culprits are identified and banned from attending Albion games in the future, but the anger is real and the board need to address that.
Sacking Ismaël has its own issues. There is the cost of paying him off, of course, but also the abandonment of the project and knowing what to do next. There were suggestions on social media on Sunday that Blackburn boss, Tony Mowbray, was top of the club’s list for a replacement, but that would mean more compensation, albeit his contract is up at the end of the season, and a complete change in philosophy. It would undoubtedly be popular, but it would be another lurch in direction and how quickly would the squad be able to adapt to the change in style?
However, such has been the fans’ general dissatisfaction with Val-ball, that a complete change in philosophy may be the only way to get the fans back on side, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right thing to do, or would be successful. Having said that, the players’ apparent lack of enthusiasm for Val-ball could make the transition easy.
While I now believe that Ismaël needs to be replaced, I believe it is largely down to the players’ inability or unwillingness to adapt to the tactics rather than the tactics themselves. I also think that if Daryl Dike had been signed in the summer, it would have been a very different campaign. Val must ultimately take the rap as he and his coaching staff are responsible to getting their tactics to work but the players must shoulder some of the blame.
We will learn more in the coming days but, whatever happens, it will need a major turnaround in fortunes if Albion are to maintain any sort of promotion challenge.