The focus of the league is normally taken up by the teams contesting for the title or those scrapping for survival. So, the dark-horses and surprise packages don’t get enough recognition and, judging off this season, there aren’t many more impressive than West Bromwich Albion.
If the other 14 teams didn’t have to play the top six, West Brom would be top of the league. Their improved consistency and quality in performance has been vast this campaign with nine wins, four draws and two defeats against the rest, with those two losses coming very early in the season.
Manager Tony Pulis has been heavily criticised for his style of play during his time in England’s top tier, but the success behind his methods cannot be argued. He established Stoke City as a Premier League club with a steely and organised unit and saved Crystal Palace from the drop, while bringing key players to the club, like Scott Dann and Jason Puncheon. Now he has taken his current club, West Brom, to a new level, and in doing so, changed the perception of himself and the Baggies.
The Midlands outfit has always been associated as hard-working, tough to break down and an aerially dominant team – they have the joint most goals from set-pieces this season – but new signings Salomon Rondon, Nacer Chadli and Matt Phillips have give them an element of flair and pace, which nicely compliments the solidity provided by the ever-reliable defensive trio of Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Ben Foster
As a result, the Baggies look a much better all-round team this season, with their two clashes with West Ham epitomising this. In beating the Hammers 4-2 they showed a slicker, attacking game, as Chadli scored twice on his debut, the last a beautiful counter-attack. The Baggies haven’t had a player of the Belgian’s calibre in years and his strike in the return meeting between these two highlighted his skill.
After collecting the ball, he nutmegged Cheick Kouyate and slotted the ball through Darren Randolph’s legs to open the scoring. A late McAuley header salvaged a point, which leaves them eighth and four points off the Europa League. Their last major European competition was the 1982 UEFA Cup and if they keep up their form, especially at home – winning five of their last six – it’s not beyond them.
Pulis is repaying the faith that Jeremy Peace and co. showed in him in a summer, where many a fan at The Hawthorns would’ve happily seen him driven out. The evolution of West Brom is in shape. It is just a question, at the moment, of how far they can go.