It is fair to say that the events of the past two weeks have signalled another low point for West Bromwich Albion in what has been an increasingly turbulent and chaotic season that, barring a repeat of the 2005 ‘great escape’, appears set to culminate in relegation.
On the pitch a heavy defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge left the Baggies rooted to the foot of the Premier League table, seven points shy of safety, whilst any temporary relief that an FA Cup run may have provided was swiftly ended after Southampton’s victory at The Hawthorns.
The immediate future looks bleak and it will take a herculean effort from Alan Pardew and his players in the closing months of the season to preserve the club’s top-flight status.
However, West Brom appear determined to complicate matters for themselves by continuously shooting themselves in the foot through controversies, accusations and sackings off the pitch.
Owner Lai Guochuan wielded the axe by sacking his two most senior executives last week, with chairman John Williams and chief executive Martin Goodman both paying the price for the Albion’s nightmare season.
On the same day it was revealed that four senior players had broken a club curfew during their warm weather training camp in Spain and were accused of stealing a taxi following a late-night drinking session, although none of them will face legal action due to a lack of evidence, reports BBC Sport.
The club now stands on the brink of relegation with uncertainty in the boardroom and off-field antics by senior players underpinning a campaign that has been characterised by poor performances on the pitch.
Here, The Boot Room highlights three reasons why the Baggies are facing a return to the Championship.
Managerial sackings, appointments and mistakes(?)
When Tony Pulis arrived at the Hawthorns in January 2015 he became the club’s fourth manager in the space of a year, yet the former Stoke City and Crystal Palace boss was able to achieve a moderate amount of success whilst in charge of the club.
The 60-year-old led The Baggies to 13th, 14th and 10th in the Premier League table during his first three seasons and the club also made a bright start to the current campaign.
However, Pulis will always remain a somewhat divisive figure for the style of play that he employs, which results in a team that is defensively solid but is reliant on long, direct balls into isolated forward players.
It is the kind of football that is unattractive and unappealing to supporters, yet there is a willingness to accept it as long as it generates results.
Therefore it came as little surprise that West Brom fans, and subsequently the club hierarchy, lost patience with Pulis after a run of 10 games without a win in the autumn.
However, his arrival has failed to stimulate an upturn in results or performances at The Hawthorns and the 56-year-old has secured just one win from his first 13 Premier League contests.
There was an almost unanimous agreement around the club that it was the right decision to sack Pulis, but Pardew’s failure to transform the club’s fortunes has left many external onlookers questioning whether the Welshman would have been a better bet to guide the Baggies to safety.
A more pertinent question perhaps is why Pardew was seen as the best choice for the role in the first place?
It appears that the decision to appoint him combined with continuing poor results has cost chairman John Williams and chief executive Martin Goodman their jobs.
A lack of goals
The primary issue for West Bromwich Albion on the pitch this season has been their inability to find the back of the net.
The Baggies have scored just 21 goals in the Premier League this season and only one other team, Swansea City, have found the net less this campaign.
The club has been desperately short of quality in the final third and simply lack an out-and-out goal scorer to convert the handful of chances that are created by a relatively uninspiring midfield unit.
Salomon Rondon has led the forward line for much of the campaign but has been increasingly isolated, inconsistent and simply does not look confident in front of goal.
Meanwhile, Jay Rodriguez, who arrived in the summer form Southampton, missed a large chunk of the season through injury but has shown glimpses of returning to form.
The pair have scored just four Premier League goals each this term – a poor return from two players who have performed much better in previous years.
West Brom’s struggles are highlighted by the fact that Jonny Evans and Ahmed Hegazi, two central defenders, are the club’s next highest scorers.
The arrival of Daniel Sturridge on loan from Liverpool in January was supposed to solve Alan Pardew’s goal scoring dilemma, but the 28-year-old lasted only three minutes on his first start against Chelsea before limping off with a hamstring injury.
It is unclear how much direct involvement the striker will have for the remainder of the season and the club’s decision to place all of their eggs in one basket appears to have backfired badly.
The poor performances on the pitch this season have been exacerbated by West Brom’s apparent determination to stumble from one controversy to the next off of it.
First, the club were left shocked after the FA charged striker Jay Rodriguez with ‘using abusive and/or insulting words, which included a reference to ethnic origin and/ or colour and/or race’ after an incident with Brighton and Hove Albion defender Gaetan Bong last month, as reported by the Birmingham Mail.
Both the club and the striker vehemently deny any allegations of wrong doing, but it simply adds to the feeling around the Hawthorns that nothing is going right this season.
It was then revealed that four senior players missed a club curfew during the Baggies’ warm weather training camp in Spain last week and that they had been accused of stealing a taxi.
Gareth Barry, Jonny Evans, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill were interviewed, but not arrested by police after the incident and are unlikely to be charged due to a lack of evidence.
The quartet have since publicly apologised for their behaviour, whilst Alan Pardew admitted that the actions of his players were “unacceptable” and that he “felt a bit let down”.
The constant deluge of issues on and off the field has left West Brom supporters just wondering what else can go wrong for them this season.
One to watch: West Brom’s Harvey Barnes continues scoring form vs Norwich
The West Brom youngster has started the season in fine form.
Harvey Barnes continued his hot start to this season, scoring his second goal in three games to help West Bromwich Albion to a 4-3 win away from home against Norwich City.
Barnes’ flexibility was again on display. Starting on the left and playing most of his 65 minutes on the field there, the 20-year-old at times found himself shifted out to the right.
He then played a portion of the second half playing through the centre, where he was able to get into positions closer to goal.
He took three shots in the second half, and with the final one, he guided a first-time curling effort past Tim Krul to put West Brom 3-1 up.
Barnes was generally tidy, completing 91% of his passes. But he also did not take any great risks.
He does, however, continue to show how dangerous he is when given space to run at teams at the edge of the box.
Not only is he able to fashion chances for himself from these positions – both his goals this season have come from outside the penalty area – but he is acutely aware of where he can use one-two passes with a team-mate to create space for himself to score.
Contrastingly, Barnes still looks like a liability defensively.
He is small, slight, and does not possess elite level endurance.
Barnes likes to float when his team is out of possession, looking to take up position in areas where he can damage in transition when his team win the ball back.
This puts pressure on the experienced Kieran Gibbs at left-back.
Nonetheless, the start to the Leicester loanee’s season has been overwhelmingly positive.
One to watch: West Brom’s 20-year-old midfielder Harvey Barnes
Introducing The Boot Room’s 2018/19 One to Watch series…
There are high hopes for Harvey Barnes at Leicester City.
Earlier this summer, Barnes signed a new four-year deal before being loaned out to West Bromwich Albion for the upcoming Championship season.
He already has second-tier experience, after scoring five goals and assisting four in 1,408 league minutes on loan for the first half of last season with Barnsley.
Barnes has already smashed in an absolute pearler this season, highlighting the danger he presents from range.
The direct threat he poses from out wide – he likes to start wide and drift inside where he is capable of shooting accurately on either foot – is an increasingly desirable trait in modern football.
Conversely, he is also adept at playing the final ball in such situations.
Sometimes, he simply just likes to take up position in the channel from the start.
Darren Moore praised Barnes upon his arrival, pointing towards the Englishman’s X-factor.
“He is an exciting young player – one that I think our supporters will enjoy watching,” Moore told the club website.
“He’s got good experience of the Championship already and I am thrilled at the prospect of him adding his talents to our group. I couldn’t be happier that we have been able to bring him in.”
Those comments are promising to hear as Barnes looks to get minutes under his belt in view of returning to his parent club and being integrated there.
In the meantime, it will be fascinating to see if he can put together a consistent 42-game Championship season.
He did well for six months last season before he was recalled in January by Leicester.
West Brom will certainly be leaning on him as a key pillar in their hopes to return straight back into the Premier League.
One in, one out: The Deadline Day deals Burnley should prioritise
The Clarets could add further to their squad with Europa League football to contend.
Burnley are facing the busiest deadline day of any Premier League club, as they will face off against Istanbul Basaksehir in the Europa League qualifying rounds later tonight.
The club pulled off the high-profile signings of Joe Hart, Ben Gibson, and Matej Vydra in the last couple days, but should not be done just yet.
Here are two potential ins and outs that Burnley should prioritise today.
Sign Jay Rodriguez from West Brom
According to Sky Sports, Burnley are interested in buying English striker Jay Rodriguez, a move that would reunite the 29-year-old with his former club.
The signing would be a savvy one, as Sean Dyche is in the market for an experienced Premier League striker, and Rodriguez is a natural finisher who can become the perfect poacher for the Clarets.
The West Bromwich Albion striker started his career at Burnley, progressing through the academy and making more than a century of appearances for the Clarets from 2007 to 2012.
Before moving to Southampton, Rodriguez scored 29 league goals in his final two campaigns at Turf Moor.
A return to Burnley would benefit both parties, granting Jay Rodriguez a Premier League reprieve and gifting Dyche a classy centre-forward for the upcoming season.
Sell Nahki Wells
It was widely thought that Nahki Wells would be heading out on loan to Derby County as part of the deal that brought Vydra to Burnley, yet nothing has been announced as of yet with regards to Wells’ future.
The Bermudan attacker should be sold today, as he endured a poor 2017/18 campaign and seemingly has no future at Turf Moor.
Wells played a dismal 45 league minutes all season for the Clarets, making nine substitute appearances– while his longest involvement was a 10-minute cameo on the final day of the season.
Instead of a loan, Burnley would do well to offload the 28-year-old on a permanent basis and clear out underperforming players from Dyche’s squad.
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