Albion players, staff and fans were left in no doubt as to how tough this season will be after the Baggies slumped to a disappointing defeat at St Mary’s. The 2-0 scoreline flattered Albion and that it was not worse was down in no small part to an inspired performance from the much-maligned goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone, after he made a number of excellent saves.
After making slight improvements in each league game before this match, it was particularly disappointing to see the players put in such an abject display. They were second best in every department apart from a fifteen minute spell after half time and, while there is no doubt that every player out there, possibly with the exceptoion of Johnstone, was well below the levels they are capable of, it is a performance and result that highlights the deficiencies in the squad.
I found Bilić’s team selection surprising. With Conor Gallagher unavailable through illness, he still opted to switch to the 4-2-3-1 formation that brought much success last season but made the surprising choice of bringing in Kyle Edwards on the right wing, and leaving Sawyers and Livermore in the centre of midfield behind Pereira as a number ten. Dara O’Shea moved out to right back with Darnell Furlong dropping to the bench.
For me, Romaine Sawyers is not a defensive midfielder and, as I said in my match preview, our current back four needs a natural defensive midfielder to offer protection. Sawyers is undoubtedly a talented ball player, but he is not a tackler and his awareness out of possession is not good enough at this level.
However, that was not the principle reason for the defeat. For me, it was down to a general lack of aggression, urgency and concentration from the first minute. Southampton could have easily been 4-0 up at half time and it would not have been a flattering scoreline. Albion were just not at it and only some fine saves from Sam Johnstone kept it at 1-0.
After half time, the Baggies were much improved and there was a modicum of hope that they might have got away with that abject first forty-five but, as had happened against Leicester, once the second goal went in, heads dropped and they never looked like getting back into the game. That it was only 2-0 at the finish was the only surprise.
Whether this drab display will spark any change of approach in the transfer market is perhaps unlikely. The fact remains that Albion will continue to be run in a self-sufficient manner and the budget is tight. Monday is the last day on which Premier League clubs can sign players from overseas, or from other Premier League clubs, but signings from EFL clubs can be made up until 16th October. That presents a dilemma for the Albion hierarchy with regards to their pursuit of a striker with targets both internationally and at EFL clubs
Not that a different striker would have made much difference at Southampton – Robinson got very little service and can consider himself unlucky to have been substituted. While Ivanović has yet to make a league appearance, Bilić must surely be concerned at the performance of the defence so far with more than three goals a game conceded on average so far, and will surely be asking for further reinforcements in that area as well. It is questionable whether the budget will stretch.
This match is definitely a reality check and the doom-mongers are out in force on social media, but we should not forget the positives from previous performances. The next three games are hugely important and we will know much more about this team come the end of October.
For now, we will just have to watch and wait to see what improvements can be made to the squad before Burnley visit the Hawthorns for an early season basement battle.
It’s hard to be optimistic after today, but it’s still very early and there are still plenty of points to play for. And we’re not even in the bottom three!