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.
Should Ben Foster be in the England World Cup squad?
With Joe Hart out of form could Foster head to Russia despite Baggies struggles.
England are heading to the World Cup this summer with one very significant problem position – goalkeeper.
The current number one is Joe Hart. His loan spell at West Ham United has been a disaster. His poor form saw him dropped for Adrian. England do have good young options. Everton’s Jordan Pickford and Stoke City’s Jack Butland look likely to be on the plane. In terms of experience however, England are lacking. Tom Heaton of Burnley has spent much of the season on the sidelines with a shoulder injury. His deputy Nick Pope has been brilliant, but has no England experience.
Gareth Southgate should therefore try and convince a West Brom player out of retirement.
Whilst most of the Baggies players this season certainly don’t deserve a place at the World Cup this summer, one that might is goalkeeper Ben Foster.
The 34-year-old has been in his usual consistent form for West Brom this season. If England decide that Joe Hart should be left behind then experience will be necessary. Based on form, that should be the case. Hart has been poor this term and his confidence appears to be shot.
Foster would be a perfect replacement. He is a no-nonsense option whose eight caps for England do not represent his talent. He is excellent at claiming crosses and quick off his line. His injury record goes some way to highlighting that bravery is one of his best attributes. When it comes to shot-stopping he can’t quite rival Butland or Pickford, but he is no slouch.
He has previously made himself unavailable for the England team, after a series of injury troubles. This summer England boss Southgate must consider asking him to re-enter the fold once again. He could be the guiding stopper for Pickford and Butland in Russia whilst Hart takes some much needed time away from the national team.
Bringing in Foster to the England fold again might be the best option for all parties this summer.
Three reasons West Brom are facing the realistic possibility of relegation
With West Bromwich Albion languishing at the foot of the Premier League table, seven points from safety, Martyn Cooke investigates the three factors that are likely to lead to relegation for the Baggies this season.
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.
Chelsea 3-0 West Bromwich Albion: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge
Rob Meech brings us three talking points from Stamford Bridge as an Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea dismantled a struggling West Bromwich Albion side.
Chelsea eased the pressure on Antonio Conte after a brace from Eden Hazard saw off basement boys West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge.
It had been a troubling week for the Blues, following back-to-back heavy defeats against Bournemouth and Watford that had cast serious doubts over Conte’s position as manager.
But Hazard netted twice, either side of a goal from Victor Moses to complete a routine victory over the Baggies, who lost loan star Daniel Sturridge to injury after just three minutes.
Chelsea leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur into fourth spot as the battle for the top four heats up, while West Brom remain seven points adrift of safety.
Here are three talking points…
Talismanic Hazard comes to the rescue again
Just days after he was voted as Belgium’s player of the year by his peers, Hazard underlined his ability as a footballer of rare class with another brace to take his tally to 11 for the season.
Chelsea’s number 10 has an excellent scoring record against West Brom, one which he improved upon with a display that was too good for the Baggies to handle.
Hazard is a talismanic performer and when he hits his straps, the rest of the team feed off him.
Hazard combined with new boy Olivier Giroud to slam home his first of the evening, which eased the tension at Stamford Bridge.
The 27-year-old added his second and rounded off the scoring late in the second half, slamming the ball past visiting keeper Ben Foster.
Back in the top four as a result of this victory, Hazard will be the key to Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
With him in their ranks, anything is possible.
Conte relieved as the pressure lifts
One man who will be extremely grateful for Hazard’s dazzling display is Conte.
The Italian seemed to be on the brink after last week’s 4-1 loss to Watford, which came hot on the heels of a similarly catastrophic result at home to Bournemouth.
Conte’s prickly demeanour and comments in press conferences had led some to speculate that he was goading the Chelsea board into sacking him, less than a year after he steered the club to the Premier League title.
Either way, it’s clear he retains the full support of the Stamford Bridge faithful, which was vocal in its support for Conte throughout the game, chanting his name with regularity.
Conte himself was typically demonstrative on the touchline, bellowing instructions and celebrating each of the goals as his players repaid him with an improved performance.
Whether he will be in the dugout next season remains to be seen, but for now at least his job is more secure than it was a week ago.
Sturridge’s World Cup audition falls flat
In front of watching England manager Gareth Southgate, Sturridge would have been hopeful of making a positive impression following his shock move to West Brom in the January window.
The Liverpool striker made the switch in order to enhance his prospects of making the World Cup squad, which will be named in little over three months’ time.
Few doubt Sturridge’s quality, but his fragile body continually struggles to hold up under the intensity of Premier League football.
His withdrawal due to a hamstring strain less than three minutes on the clock was a monumental blow, both to him personally and West Brom’s ambitions of springing a surprise against Chelsea.
Although he is expected to be sidelined for only a couple of weeks, this latest setback again raises questions over his durability.
Sturridge’s opportunities to prove he deserves to be on the plane to Russia are fast running out.
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