Blackpool 0 West Brom 0
On a frustrating night on the Lancashire coast, Albion dominated proceedings but failed to get the goal they needed to record a first victory on the road since September. A point, however, did end a run of four successive away defeats, but for a side looking to challenge for automatic promotion, drawing at the home of a newly promoted side is a below par result. However, those fans calling for Ismaël to be sacked have, in my opinion, failed to grasp the reality of the situation.
The main issue with the club currently is the ownership, and the frustration amongst the fanbase was evident at Bloomfield Road with chants of “sack the board”, although who exactly should do the sacking, I’m not exactly sure.
From what is generally understood, Guochuan Lai (assuming he is still the owner) has no intention of investing any more money into West Bromwich Albion and would like to sell the club, but only at something close to what he paid for it. That means he needs the club to be in the Premier League if he wants to get out.
It’s unclear who is advising Lai and his management team at the club, but they made a decision to appoint Valérien Ismaël on a four year contract, paying £2 million to release him from Barnsley. In anyone’s book, that is a significant statement of faith in the Frenchman and also an acknowledgement that success may take some time. Whether you like the principles of Val-ball or not, it is a change in philosophy and it will take time to get it right and, more than likely, it will take some significant changes in the playing staff as Ismaël works out who can do what he needs.
Obviously, the hope is that Albion can still get promoted in the midst of this “project”, but I cannot believe that the project would be abandoned after a few months because the club aren’t in the top two. I don’t even think that the club would necessarily act should Val not win promotion next summer. Patience is something that is generally in short supply in football, but I do think it is needed with Albion at the moment.
Returning to the match, I felt that the Baggies at least looked to have rediscovered the intensity and pressing that we came to expect from an Ismaël team in the early weeks of the season, albeit the familiar “final ball woes” were very much in evidence. 25 shots on goal was an impressive tally but only four were on target albeit an xG of 2.07 suggests that Albion should have at least had a couple of goals. It was an impressive defensive performance from the hosts although it was Sam Johnstone that probably produced the best goal-stopping action with a fantastic double save just before half time.
The intensity with which the Baggies played was much improved and, with Blackpool opting to play out from the back more often than not, Albion were able to win the ball high on numerous occasions. It was very reminiscent of those early games of the season only without the clinical edge. Tactically it was a good performance but, when the attacking players make poor decisions, make poor passes or fluff their chances, there is little the coaching staff can do.
I thought Mowatt and Mulumby did well in the middle of the park, although Mowatt will be disappointed with a couple of efforts he had on goal – one in the first half when Townsend set him up, it looked tailor-made for him for a strike from the edge of the box but he put it well over.
At the back, Albion looked shaky at times with Matt Clarke the only one of the back three to really come out with credit. Nonetheless, the Baggies came away with a clean sheet, which is something at least.
I did feel that it was a step forward in performance, but goals continue to be a problem and, unless the front players can find their shooting boots quickly, results will continue to be erratic. Ismaël’s comments that there are enough goals in the team is surely an attempt to engender confidence in his existing players rather than setting an expectation that he won’t look to bring in a striker in January. It is the most obvious flaw in the squad, and I’m sure he will look to address it.
We move on to another Friday night fixture and the visit of Nottingham Forest before four consecutive weeks without a midweek fixture that Ismaël and his coaching staff will need to use wisely.