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West Bromwich Albion

West Brom supporters lose patience with Tony Pulis and his pragmatic style of play

Martyn Cooke

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West Brom

There are few certainties in the topsy-turvy world of modern football. Except, perhaps, that a team managed by Tony Pulis in the Premier League will always be guaranteed safety when each season concludes.

The Welshman is the proverbial perennial survivor having never experienced relegation during a managerial career that has seen him operate at clubs throughout the English football pyramid and across the width and breadth of the country.

Pulis has developed an uncanny knack of being able to drastically alter the fortunes of clubs that appear certain to suffer relegation with both Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion appointing him when the danger of dropping into The Championship became a genuine possibility.

He is a Premier League insurance policy – a virtual guarantee of a safe mid-table finish.

However, the 57-year-old appears to be facing one of the biggest challenges of his managerial career at West Brom with a poor start to the new campaign leaving The Baggies just two points clear of the drop zone.

The team suffered a third consecutive defeat against Huddersfield Town on Saturday, despite their opponents playing a large swathe of the second half with just ten men, and have won just two of their previous 20 league fixtures. That is undoubtedly relegation form.

Saturday’s defeat resulted in a negative backlash from supporters and there is an expanding portion of the West Brom fanbase that have simply lost patience with the poor results and, more importantly, the team’s current style of play. There is a mutinous atmosphere around the Hawthorns and there have been calls for Pulis to be dismissed.

Is it effective? Yes. Is it aesthetically pleasing? Absolutely not!

To the vast majority of external onlookers, the suggestion that Tony Pulis should be relieved of his duties appears inexplicable.

The Welshman almost certainly guarantees Premier League safety in an era when the financial rewards for dining at the top table of English football continue to increase to inconceivable levels – in many ways he is West Bromwich Albion’s insurance policy.

Why would West Brom supporters fans want to risk their Premier League position? They should be grateful for playing in the top flight of English football! What more do they want?

In reality, behind the façade of mid-table finishes and short clips on Match of the Day, watching a team managed by Pulis on a weekly basis can be an extremely trying and frustrating thing for supporters endure.

It must be acknowledged that Pulis is a fantastic football manger with an exemplary record of helping so-called ‘smaller’ clubs to survive, establish and stabilise their position in the Premier League.

His accomplishments at Stoke City, including promotion, an FA Cup Final and European football, were remarkable, as was his ability to turn around the immediate fortunes of both Crystal Palace and West Brom when relegation appeared to be a certainty.

Yet, despite this, Pulis remains an extremely divisive figure amongst the supporters of all of his previous football clubs and the same is certainly true for those currently following West Brom.

This issues centre on two key aspects; playing style and mentality.

Pulis implements a very definitive style of play that is almost identical regardless of which club he is at. The team will be rigidly structured, sit extremely deep defensively, and look to play direct, long balls into the forward players.

Creativity is stifled, players with imagination and flare are few and far between, and the biggest offensive threat that the team will often offer will come via well-worked set piece routines. In short, the whole team is set up with the sole purpose of nullifying the opposition and limiting goal scoring opportunities.

Keep it tight – nick a goal on the break or via a set play.

You will very rarely witness a team managed by Pulis be positive, get on the front foot and look to attack an opposing side. He is extremely pragmatic in his approach with a focus on defensive solidarity and preventing opponents from scoring rather than creating chances and asking questions of the opposition backline.

At times, the 59-year-old appears to spend more time worrying about the opposition than concentrating on the ability of his own players what challenges they can present.

Is it effective? Yes. Is it aesthetically pleasing? Absolutely not, and herein lies the issue.

Pulis is a means to an end. His playing style will grind out results and by the end of the season his team will be sitting comfortably in mid-table, well clear of the relegation zone.

He is perfect if your club is desperate for points, as both Crystal Palace and West Brom were when he was appointed, but survival is his limit and the Welshman will never facilitate long-term progression.

Tolerate rather than enjoy

Supporters are often willing to tolerate Tony Pulis’ brand of football and style of play as long as the team in winning or is in a needs-must situation when points are desperately required.

However, in reality his pragmatism and approach leaves little to the imagination and, especially for fans that pay to watch their team on a weekly basis, matches are often uneventful, predictable and, at times, just downright boring.

West Brom fans tolerated a direct approach when it became clear that they were slipping towards relegation two years ago and when the team produced experienced a good run of results last season.

However, now the team are utilising a pragmatic style of play and the supporters do not even have the comfort of knowing that it is grinding out results.

Few would have predicted prior to the season starting that West Brom would be slipping towards the relegation zone or that Pulis would be fighting to save his job just three months after signing a new contract.

However, modern football moves quickly and The Baggies supporters appear to have lost patience with the Welshman’s approach and methodology.

Those outside The Hawthorns will struggle to understand the frustration of the supporters, but those that watch the team on a weekly basis will be fully aware of the paucity of football on show under Pulis’ reign.

There are few certainties in the topsy-turvy world of modern football – maybe Tony Pulis is about to discover that for himself.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

West Bromwich Albion

How can Alan Pardew use the January transfer window to re-invigorate West Brom?

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West Brom
Photo: Reuters

Alan Pardew will have been under no illusions as to the scale of the task at hand when taking the helm from Tony Pulis at West Bromwich Albion.

Financial Fair Play (FFP) continues to closely monitor the club’s heavy investment in bringing in players, investment which has thus far failed to bear fruit for a Baggies side that has scored just 16 goals in their opening 22 Premier League games, conceding 30.

Such a run has left Albion in the bottom three with a meagre 16 points, four from safety with just two wins and ten draws to their name all season.

Pardew hasn’t managed to register a victory in the league as of yet, but has helped stem the tide somewhat with four draws from his eight matches in charge, including three clean sheets.

The FA Cup Third Round yielded a confidence-boosting first win in charge for the new manager. However, the Baggies putting in a professional performance to see of League Two high-flyers Exeter City in a 2-0 away victory.

Question marks remain as to just how much Pardew will have his hands tied by FFP regulations, but the areas in need of strengthening are strikingly obvious.

Goal-shy Albion lack a prolific goalscorer, and seeking out a match-winner will likely be first on the list of Pardew’s priorities, whilst the experienced boss will almost certainly be looking to add reinforcements to his leaky defence, particularly with the ever-present and reliable Jonny Evans continuing to be linked with a move away from the Hawthorns this January.

Addressing the club’s profligacy in front of goal first, Pardew still has a wealth of options to pursue in January, despite the recent blow of transfer target Cedric Bakambu, currently of Villarreal, opting to sign for Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan. One such option, which may just prove a shrewd move on Albion’s part, is Liverpool forward Danny Ings.

Competition is inevitable in the Baggies’ bid to acquire the former Burnley and Bournemouth forward’s services, with the Reds prepared to allow Ings to leave on loan in a bid to re-ignite his career following a serious knee injury.

Ings netted 11 goals in his last full-season in the Premier League for Burnley back in 2014/15, with his last top-flight appearance coming against the Baggies on the final day of the 2015/16 campaign. Such a goal ratio would prove a useful contribution to Pardew’s squad, with both Jay Rodriguez and Salomon Rondon struggling for consistency in front of goal.

Pardew has made no secret of his interest in adding the Liverpool man to his forward-line, whilst the forward has also attracted interest from former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, who is keen on bolstering his attacking options at Newcastle.

It is not the only transfer target on Albion’s radar that the Magpies are attempting to shoe-in on either, if reports from ESPN are to be believed, with both clubs believed to be in the market for Red Star Belgrade forward Richmond Boayke.

Despite failing to make the grade at Everton’s Europa League conquerors Atalanta, and only putting pen to paper on a permanent deal with Serbian outfit Red Star Belgrade in the summer, Boayke is one option that Pardew could pursue to remedy his side’s lack of cutting edge.

The Ghanaian has netted 17 times for club and country in the opening six months of Red Star’s season, including a purple patch of eight goals in three league matches.

Known for his pace and power, ESPN linked the Baggies with a move for Boayke back in December, with Albion scouts thought to have been in attendance during Red Star’s goalless Europa League draw with Bundesliga side Cologne. Both clubs face heavy competition for the forward, however, with the London Evening Standard linking Boayke with a move to Chelsea.

One option that would suit West Brom’s style of play particularly well is Bournemouth forward Benik Afobe, with the Daily Express linking Albion and local rivals Wolves with a January move for the forward back in September.

Afobe had seemingly fallen down the pecking order at the Vitality Stadium following the return to fitness of Callum Wilson and the arrival of Jermain Defoe from Sunderland, but injury to the latter has thrust Afobe back into Eddie Howe’s plans over the festive period and the Cherries may be unwilling to allow him to leave in such circumstances.

Should Pardew’s pursuit of either of that forward trio prove fruitless, an alternative option may be that of Sheffield Wednesday striker Gary Hooper, whom the Baggies were linked to  back in October, alongside fellow strugglers Crystal Palace and Brighton.

The forward picked up an injury in Wednesday’s Boxing Day victory at Nottingham Forest and hasn’t featured since, but has netted eleven goals already this campaign and could prove a clever investment upon his return to fitness.

With Wednesday’s promotion bid seemingly off the rails, with the club 16th in the Championship and having sacked manager Carlos Carvalhal, the Owls’ resolve to hold onto their main man could be seriously tested if Albion were to come in with a bid.

Hooper certainly has the goalscoring pedigree to succeed in the Premier League, having featured in the top-flight for Norwich in the past as well as having a hat-full of Champions League goals to his name from his time with Scottish giants Celtic, but the biggest doubt hanging over a move will be regarding when the forward will be match-fit again.

In spite of such permutations in the market, two attacking options do remain realistic for the Baggies. With Newcastle United content to provide competition for Albion targets, Pardew may well be tempted to pull off an audacious raid on St. James’ Park for out-of-favour striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

The Serb is known to desire a move away from Tyneside this month in pursuit of regular football having made just six appearances for the Magpies this season.

With opportunities scarce under Benitez, should Mitrovic attempt to force through a move, a bid may just tempt much-maligned Newcastle owner Mike Ashley to part ways with Mitrovic for a fee, even if it was to a Premier League relegation rival.

One Premier League club that may well be willing to part with a forward in Albion’s favour is Leicester City, with question marks looming over the future of their £30 million Algerian striker Islam Slimani.

The former Sporting Lisbon hit-man has fallen down the pecking order at the King Power Stadium since the departure of Claudio Ranieri last season, and hasn’t been helped by Shinji Okazaki’s recent return to form and the summer arrival of Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City.

Albion were monitoring the forward back in 2016 before he opted to sign for Leicester, and Pardew could do worse than attempt to lure the forward across the Midlands, particularly since his New Year’s Day strike against Huddersfield showcased that Slimani still has much to offer in the Premier League.

Time will tell on that front, however, as to whether that performance has subsequently propelled him back into the plans of Foxes boss Claude Puel.

Shifting focus to Pardew’s need to strengthen his defensive options, despite Jonny Evans’ future remaining uncertain, he appears in no panic to recruit a centre-half, following Ahmed Hegazi’s arrival in the summer and Gareth McAuley’s successful return to the side against Exeter.

The Baggies do notably lack depth in the right-back position though, with Craig Dawson having only recently returned to fitness, and Allan Nyom being the only natural alternative option in the position.

With Evans linked with a move to Arsenal, French outlet L’Equipe suggests that Albion may look for the Gunners to return the favour, in allowing them to sign French right-back Mathieu Debuchy.

With no Premier League appearances to his name this season, Debuchy is thought to be keen for a move away from the Emirates in the hope of forcing himself back into Didier Deschamps’ plans for the French National Team ahead of the World Cup, having missed out on Euro 2016 due to injury, and a switch to the Hawthorns could prove the ideal opportunity should Pardew make an approach.

Another realistic target at full-back, should the club approach him, is that of Stoke City defender Glen Johnson.

The Sun linked Pardew with a move for the capped England international in late December, who has fallen out of favour at Stoke City, having made a meagre four appearances for the Potters and not featured at all since October, with Geoff Cameron and youngster Tom Edwards preferred.

Johnson, a natural right-back who has also played on the left-side of defence in the past, is thought to favour a move away from relegation threatened Stoke, who recently parted company with under-fire manager Mark Hughes. The only potential spanner in the works of this transfer would be if Hughes’ successor sees fit to recall the full-back to the first-team picture at Bet365 Stadium.

Should Pardew have the capacity to invest in the full-back position this month, he may be tempted to turn to the Championship for more youthful options and build for the future at the Hawthorns.

An audacious approach would be to go knocking on the door of local rivals and league leaders Wolves in pursuit of their flying right-back Conor Coady, or alternatively Pardew could go on the hunt in South Yorkshire, with Barnsley right-back Andy Yiadom also an option.

£2.5 million rated Yiadom, formerly of League Two club Barnet, has gone from strength to strength since his move to Oakwell, and the Daily Mirror claimed back in November via the Birmingham Mail that the Baggies were closely monitoring the defender during Tony Pulis’ reign, with the club’s technical director Nicky Hammond attending the Tykes’ 4-2 home victory over Burton Albion in the Championship.

If Yiadom should not arrive this window, it is not inconceivable that Pardew should make a move for him in the summer at the expiration of his contract. Yiadom has already turned down a new deal with Barnsley and saw a move to Huddersfield fall through during the summer transfer window of 2017.

As for Coady, a move across the Black Country is the more unlikely of Pardew’s possible options, although The Sun did report that the Baggies and Newcastle United were monitoring the Wolves full-back following Nuno Espirito Santo’s Carabao Cup exit at Manchester City on penalties.

The former Liverpool and Sheffield United man has recently signed a new contract at Wolves and is valued at around £7 million.

Should Pardew bear the brunt of FFP in his bid to bolster his defence, however, a shrewd and quite frankly economical move he could look to make is for former Arsenal and Manchester City right-back Bacary Sagna, who has been a free-agent since his release from the Etihad in the summer.

The 34-year-old France international has made well over 25o Premier League appearances and comes with a wealth of experience from his time with the Gunners and the Citizens, and he featured in each of France’s Euro 2016 matches as they reached the final on home soil before bowing to Portugal.

Sagna has been keeping himself fit during the first-half of the season and so it shouldn’t take a great deal of time to build-up match fitness. Premier League rivals West Ham have already reaped the benefits of bringing one released right-back in from City in the form of Pablo Zabaleta, and the experience of Sagna may have an equally positive effect as the Baggies attempt to stave off relegation themselves.

The scale of Pardew’s recruitment and indeed whether he has the capacity to invest heavily in reinforcements this January remains to be seen with Financial Fair Play still a potential stumbling block, but with options in abundance to pursue this transfer window in any case, he has every chance of giving the Baggies a fighting chance to remain in the Premier League.

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Manchester United

West Brom 1-2 Manchester United: Lingard affirms his status while Baggies shoots of recovery emerge

Jake Jackman

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Manchester United
Photo: Reuters

Manchester United fought off a late scare to secure three points against West Brom on Sunday.

The visitors took a two-goal lead in the first half, thanks to goals from Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard. It looked to be plain sailing from there, but Alan Pardew made a couple of chances, including bringing on Chris Brunt and it increased the attacking threat of the home team.

A scramble in the penalty area resulted in Gareth Barry getting his team back into the game and the Baggies pressed for an equaliser. Ultimately they came up short, but the manner of the second half performance will improve the mood at the Hawthorns.

Here are three talking points from the match…

Jesse Lingard is establishing himself as a first-team regular

At the beginning of the season, Jesse Lingard was seen as a good squad player that could come into the team and contribute important goals. Few Manchester United supporters would have seen the attacking midfielder as a regular starter, but his performances during the last few weeks may have changed that point of view. He scored the second goal via a deflection and caused problems with his movement all afternoon.

The England international has now contributed four goals and one assist in his last five Premier League starts. He was a lot more assured in possession than usual and his confidence seems to be growing every week. Lingard finished the match with a pass success rate of 91%, including one key pass.

In the free role, he has the license to roam and his intelligent movement opens up space for other attacking players in the team. It remains to be seen if he can maintain this form over a sustained period of time, but this was another encouraging performance.

There are shoots of recovery at West Brom

Rome wasn’t built in a day and it was always likely to be a slow process for Alan Pardew to change the style of play at West Brom. Tony Pulis had been at the club for a long time and his tactics were ingrained in the playing squad. Although the new manager isn’t known for attractive football, he does like his teams to play with attacking intent. That can’t be said of the man that he replaced at the Hawthorns.

The decision to start Oliver Burke was a positive one and the former RB Leipzig winger raised excitement levels with a couple of positive runs. Although his end product wasn’t there, it provided the supporters with excitement. During the match, the home side had 12 shots to Manchester United’s eight and they weren’t afraid to commit men forward, especially in the second half. They may have lost, but there were reasons for the Baggies’ supporters to be optimistic about the future.

Antonio Valencia’s absence could spell problems

Manchester United looked a lot more open after the injury to Antonio Valencia and it would be a blow if he was missing for a long period of time as the club don’t have a natural replacement. It remains to be seen how many matches he will miss, but if he has suffered a hamstring injury, he would not be likely to return until 2018.

After Valencia went off, Jose Mourinho decided to move Ashley Young to right back and brought on Marcos Rojo at left back. Although the former has been very good during recent weeks, he isn’t as comfortable on the right-hand side of the pitch and he will be targeted. Chris Brunt had a lot of joy after coming on and the end of the match underlined the importance of Valencia. Given the right back is now 32, it is time for the club to consider replacing him as the lack of other options is a worry.

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English Premier League

Will Alan Pardew be a good appointment for West Brom?

Jake Jackman

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Pardew

West Brom made the brave decision to sack Tony Pulis last week and they have yet to appoint his replacement. This shows that it wasn’t a planned decision and the manner of recent performances forced their hand. Gary Megson has drawn his two matches as caretaker and as an ex-manager of the club, he is a safe pair of hands for the interim period. However, it was always unlikely that he would be given the job for a long period of time and recent reports suggest a permanent appointment is imminent.

The Mirror report that Alan Pardew is set to replace Pulis at the Hawthorns and that is an interesting move that is risky for both parties. The Baggies have favoured British managers in their recent history, therefore it is not surprising that they are making the decision to appoint an experienced, English manager. However, the former Newcastle United and Crystal Palace manager has been out of the game for nearly a year and his last stint in the Premier League ended awfully.

The Eagles looked set for relegation and were shipping goals with ease, which led to Sam Allardyce replacing him. There is a media narrative that Pardew struggles to arrest a slide and that trend has been evident at every club he has been at. For the initial period, he achieves good results and West Brom are appointing him to ensure they retain their top-flight status this season. The main risk comes from the long-term chances of success, as he has no track record of delivering it.

For Pardew, this is a huge risk as it is likely to be his final opportunity in the top-flight. He failed to deliver success at Newcastle and oversaw the initial decline that eventually led to their relegation in 2016. Palace appointed him as he had a good relationship with the supporters and he did manage to lead them to an FA Cup final in 2016, but his antics on the touchline are the long-lasting memory of the match, rather than the result. That marked the beginning of the end as Palace had an awful start to the 2016/17 season and he was dismissed before the new year.

During that period, his reputation took a hit and he has failed to land another job since. He has remained in the public eye by doing punditry for Sky Sports. In one sense, this opportunity has arrived at a good time for Pardew. West Brom are an established Premier League team with a very talented squad that is capable of doing more than they were under Pulis. The likes of Jonny Evans, Nacer Chadli, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Salomon Rondon have played to a high standard and are able to do more than they currently are.

It would be unfair to tarnish Pardew with the same brush as Pulis, as his teams do try to play a more attacking style. However, he has never been a reliable defensive coach and that leads to a lot of the problems that he faces. During the 2016/17 season, his Palace team kept only one clean sheet before his sacking and to underline his struggles during his final year, the Eagles lost 22 from 36 matches in 2016.

West Brom are bringing him in to improve the style of play and he has the tools to do that, but the changes he makes may create a new issue in defence. Throughout the Pulis era, the Baggies have been one of the better defensive teams outside of the top six. That trend has shifted this season, but they will have a good foundation for Pardew to build on. Initially, the defensive structure is likely to remain impressive, but this is an area of concern for the long-term.

Is he the right appointment?

Baggies’ supporters are still on a high from the decision to sack Pulis as the majority were pushing for change since the summer. Pardew will benefit from being the man to follow the Welshman as he will be given a chance to prove himself. However, it is a less exciting appointment than many supporters would have hoped for. His stock is at an all-time low after his failure with Palace and he will need to start strongly if he is to be given a fair chance.

There has been a trend in the Premier League this season to appoint experienced British managers. The media have often criticised the influx of foreign managers into the Premier League and blamed them for the lack of young, British managers coming through. However, this season, it has been the older British managers that have failed countless times before that are blocking the path to those making their way in the lower leagues.

Pardew is one of the better examples of a British manager getting another chance that is probably underserved. At Newcastle, he managed to finish 5th in one season, but the rest of his tenure was underwhelming at best. He was a pushover for Mike Ashley and allowed the club to enter a decline to the Championship. His reputation was protected as the media didn’t criticise him. Although he wasn’t sacked, he wasn’t doing a good job and the decision to move to Crystal Palace was one of self-preservation.

Throughout his career, he has always started well and survival this season should be within his capabilities, especially given the quality of the squad. However, it is an appointment that lacks ambition as the club aren’t planning for the long term. Pardew is unlikely to deliver better finishing positions than Pulis did. The football might be better to watch, but the results won’t change.

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