West Brom 1 Stoke City 3
Given what has happened over the past few weeks, there won’t be many Albion fans who were surprised that Steve Bruce’s team produced another abject display against Stoke City at the Hawthorns just days after an impressive performance to beat Bournemouth.
The lack of consistency is from the players is baffling and Bruce and his coaching team must be incredibly frustrated. The manager has come in for criticism from some quarters as he hasn’t had the impact that any of us had hoped for but, while he did make some errors in his first few games when he tried to change to a back four with a team that was obviously not able to adapt quickly enough, I’m not sure that any manager would be able to get a consistent tune out of this squad.
Personally, I don’t see any reason for getting rid of Bruce in the summer. His track record in this division is excellent – since he was appointed as Birmingham City boss in December 2001, he has promoted every second tier side he has managed other than Aston Villa, who he took to the play off final, and Sheffield Wednesday, who he left after six months to take on the Newcastle United job in 2019. Provided he is given the backing to put the squad together he needs, I believe he will get us up next season.
Obviously, the squad overhaul he has called for is not going to be easy. It has been widely reported that a number of players who he may wish to ship out are on long term contracts at very good wages for this level, but in his post match comments he certainly appeared confident that he would be able to work within the constraints he will have. Only time will tell.
As for the match itself, Albion were ponderous and laboured with very little imagination. Only for the last fifteen minutes did they show any sort of urgency, and that largely resulted in trying to hit Carroll from distance – it may not be pretty but it can be effective and you do wonder why they didn’t try that more often earlier in the game.
The first two goals that Stoke scored were down to very lax defending, the second was particularly laughable, and the Baggies never looked like breaking down what was a very well-organised defence.
There were very few positives – Andy Carroll gave 100% as always and was the only player that looked like causing problems. Bruce did suggest in his comments that the squad needs to be younger, but I would be tempted to give Carroll another year if only to show those around him what commitment actually looks like.
While I understand that Diangana probably deserved a chance given the poor displays of late by Robinson and Grant, he just does not suit a role in the front two. He is a left winger and, unless Bruce is going to play ideally 4-4-2, or maybe 4-3-3, next season, I’m not sure Grady will fit in. It would be a shame to see him go, but it’s been two years since we have seen him at his best.
Five games left, and it’s unlikely that any opponent other than Nottingham Forest will have anything to play for. Albion finish with games against Reading and Barnsley who are currently in 21st and 22nd place, but there are already eight points between them and it will take some turnaround by the Tykes to take it to the last game. If they do, I can’t see Saturday’s Baggies team offering too much resistance, although Wednesday’s side might!
All eyes are now looking towards the summer, and I’m sure that Bruce, Gourlay and the rest of the recruitment team will already be identifying targets. We can only hope that they can find a few gems.