On Tuesday evening, West Bromwich Albion suffered a humbling exit from the EFL Cup at the hands of League One minnows Northampton Town. The Baggies had led the tie going into the closing stages but conceded a late equalising goal before being knocked out via a penalty shoot-out.
The shock exit provoked an angry response from Albion fans and #PulisOut was one of the leading trends across social media over the duration of the next twenty-four hours. This was followed by an online poll run by the Birmingham Mail that saw 81% of participants agree that Tony Pulis should be sacked.
But why is it that West Brom supporters are so keen to witness a change in manager at The Hawthorns?
To the vast majority of external onlookers, the suggestion that Tony Pulis should be relieved of his duties appears inexplicable. The 58-year-old Welshman is the perennial survivor, having never been relegated in a lengthy managerial career and 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.
Why would Albion fans want to risk this? They should be grateful! What more do they want? It does not make any sense!
But, as a lifelong Stoke City supporter, I can very accurately relate to the feelings of frustration, anger and, most probably, boredom that West Brom fans are currently having to content with.
First thing first. Tony Pulis is a fantastic football manger with an exemplary record of helping football 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.
Tony 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, open up, and look to attack an opposing side.
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 grinds 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 Palace and West Brom were when he was appointed, but survival is his limit and the Welshman will never facilitate long-term progression.
West Brom are now an established Premier League club. What the supporters now want to see is progression, ambition, and a team that are exciting to watch. However, they currently have a manager that does not have the ability to take the club any further. Instead, under the management of Pulis, the club is stagnating, the sole objective every season is simply to survive, and the team play in a direct style which is, quite often, unentertaining.
Pundits and other onlookers may see #PulisOut trending and fail to understand things from the perspective of Albion supporters. Whilst results may look reasonable on paper, for those supporters that have to watch the Pulis style on a weekly basis, they need something a little more positive and exciting. Albion fans were content to tolerate current style of play in order to scramble away from relegation but, now that they are an established Premier League club, they yearn for something more exciting, aesthetically pleasing and ambitious.
Tony Pulis’ contract expires at the end of the season and, with the club currently being bought by a Chinese consortium, it appears highly unlikely that it will be extended. The Welshman has fulfilled his remit by establishing West Brom in the top division of English football, but, just like at Stoke City, they will need to cut him loose if the club is truly to maximise its potential.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by premier league news