Moving on up?

Our new counter attacking style

Tony Pulis is in his 25th year of management, and in this game you don’t last that long without being effective. Over those years he has built a reputation for his physical and direct football style – preferring not to utilise full backs and relying on set pieces. This is what frustrated us last season, with Rondon always on his own and half a mile away from everyone else, who sat in their defensive formation while teams came at us over and over.

Since October, something has changed. We still don’t mind letting the opposition have the ball, but we are moving the ball around with much more haste, keeping possession a lot better and getting the ball out to our wingers quickly to set up effective counter attacks. We are now trying to go forward and trying to win games, and we have put in several excellent performances in the past few weeks. We are also now utilising Rondon’s greatest strength – his quality in the air – as proven by his amazing 13 minute header hat trick against Swansea.

Long may it continue!

Players on form

It was only a few weeks ago where some were stating that we had purchased duds in acquiring Phillips and Nyom. It appears they have now settled and grown in confidence and have been two of our stand out performers in recent weeks.

Chadli and Evans have kept up their usual high standard, and with Brunt and Fletcher returning to good form we have a team very much in the zone and high on confidence at the moment.

However, I am still a bit concerned about the depth of our squad. We have one of the oldest squads in the league and don’t have quality cover for all positions. This has been caused by several windows of buying back up players and ‘getting by’, rather than replacements for our regular starters. For example – he has been an excellent servant for us, but Olsson shouldn’t be anywhere near the first team any more. It is going to take several windows to rectify the squad situation, but hopefully we will get a few January reinforcements.

Daring to dream?

Many reports have suggested that Pulis’ new target under the new regime is to steadily improve and get in to that top ten, and even rumours that Europe might be on their radar. The calibre of player we are rumoured to be seeking in January, plus Leicester showing last season what a settled team high on confidence can achieve, means we would be forgiven of daring to dream.

Pulis will never win over some fans; they have grudges that can’t be overcome. But the rest of us have just been asking for a bit more attacking intent and setting out to win against teams around us in the league, and right now that is exactly what we’re getting.

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Our local journalists (Questions for Pulis)

Lack of good local journalism covering Albion now is adding to the frustration and animosity

Remember when we had Chris Lepkowski always shooting down our crazy theories with his “wide of the mark” statements? Remember when we had Martin Swain asking the hard questions of the club? What the bloody hell has happened to our local journalism?

We all know that Albion swooped in to hand pick our best local journalists to become part of the club’s media and communications teams. I cannot fault them for that. That was an excellent idea and the media and communication has generally improved while we have had very experienced people in the roles. I am not sure what happened there with Chris, but he is no longer employed by Albion and is back engaging with fans on social media. I for one am happy to have his insight back.

I can’t even name our local journalists for the Express & Star and the Birmingham Mail now. They do not ask difficult questions for fear of pissing people off and losing their access to the club. They produce endless articles of click-bait that tell us nothing we don’t already know and give us no answers at all.

There was a Brum Mail article today with the strapline ‘Empty seats, players cheered off, heavy defeats – what’s happening?’ and when you read the article it just said everything that happened on Saturday with no explanation as to ‘What’s happening’ at all. This type of click-bait with no substance, and articles about 5 bloody things we have learnt is all we come to expect from our local journalists nowadays. I have some questions I want answered……

My questions

These are the hard questions that journalists do no want to ask. Rest assured, if I meet Pulis at an event again, I promise I will be asking some of these. I want questions answered about our squad, his selections, his game plans and his transfers. It is about time that we had some answers to the following……

questions

Spurred On

One Ben Foster

Ben Foster put in an excellent shot stopping performance against Tottenham. The way he got across his goal at times to keep Spurs out was exceptional.

Without a doubt we should have been 3-0 down at least by half time, considering the pressure Spurs were putting us under at times during the first half. Foster rightly won match of the match, although I thought Tottenham were not as potent in front of goal as their recent form suggests.

Conceding possession

In the car after the game, I kept hearing TalkSport making a point of us conceding over 70% possession to Tottenham. Yes we get frustrated if we are doing this kind of thing against the likes of Northampton, but I saw no problem with going with this approach today. Tottenham are on very good form so far, having only conceded 3 goals in the league until Saturday.

Keeping things tight while conceding possession and utilising set pieces is exactly what Pulis does and is the reason he is still managing in this league after all these years. I even commented on the half time stats that they looked like Spurs were about to be “Pulised”. People only get frustrated when he keeps the same approach against teams we are capable of taking the game to.

In games against top teams or teams on a great run of form, letting them have the ball and then hitting them on the break is the way to go. Leicester won a bloody title doing it!

Substitutions

It isn’t Gardner’s fault – and it may not even be Pulis’ fault – but when the inevitable Gardner substitution is made it appears to signal to the team to sit back and hold on. We always seem more likely to concede when he does this, as it changes the dynamic of the team near the end of games. I can’t say that different substitutions would have resulted in 3 points, but it does frustrate me that we become disjointed and invite the opposition onto us when he makes certain substitutions.

Some of his substitutions are very suitable and work out well. Without the introduction of Brunt on Saturday the goal wouldn’t have come about. But even then Pulis appears very indecisive about his subs. At one point Morrison was changed and ready, then Leko, then Robsob-Kanu on three occasions before sitting back down again. Games obviously develop and he may change his mind, but on a few occasions we have conceded during this faffing about. I just wish Pulis would be more decisive and positive about his substitutions.

“Irrelevant” Albion

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I think neutrals and opposition fans see what they want to see most of the time. The Pulis team tag means that there’s already an assumption of hoofball, time wasting and playing dirty. Yes I admit we are these things at times, but even after the performance against West Ham there were comments about how boring and negative and dirty we supposedly are.

I find it funny when people throw out the “irrelevant” insult at us  – which they do more often than not because we have taken points off them. It’s like anyone who is not competing for the top 6 should turn up and attack the big teams and end up conceding 5 goals for the good of the game and for a more dramatic title race. We can’t be that irrelevant if we piss people off so much!

The media will also moan because letting the opposition play in front of you and keeping things tight doesn’t make good highlights or talking points for their radio and TV shows. Yes we haven’t won anything in a long while, and we are one of the “just there” Premier League teams, but you can say that about half of the teams in this league.

All square at the SoL

Chadli is what we’ve been waiting for

I haven’t got much to complain about regarding our game at Sunderland. Nacer Chadli has transformed the way we attack and we looked very dangerous going forward. Our main problem was putting the chances away. There were a lot of wasteful final balls, without which we would have won comfortably, in my opinion.

During the first half it amusingly looked like Albion v Albion. Sunderland just didn’t want the ball and were happy to sit back and for us to play in front of them. It was good to see that despite this we looked to try and play on the front foot and take the game to them.

Nacer Chadli is what we have been missing for quite a while; a quality number 10 who can provide that link between the midfield and attack. Based on his stats so far this season for us compared to his stats last season, it appears that the way Albion setup is very much suited to Chadli’s style. He has already become a fan favourite and long may his excellent form continue.

Attendance

Everyone probably heard that we only took 700-750 supporters to this game. We did back the team throughout and there was even a rendition of “Tony Pulis’ Barmy Army” during the second half. Where away fans are based up in the gods at The Stadium of Light probably meant our support didn’t appear too loud to the rest of the stadium, but at least we tried.

Pulis’ post match comments praising the home fans has been interpreted by some as a dig at our own fans. I didn’t think Sunderland fans were that impressive. They appeared to be going through the motions until later in the game where a couple of huge roars went up when they realised they had a chance to get a result. However I would like Pulis to acknowledge the effort from our own fans more often. He may not care about empty seats, but he should care about showing appreciation to the ones who are there week in, week out.

Fans just didn’t fancy a 4 hour journey to Sunderland and back again when they didn’t know which Albion would turn up. I thought the game was very entertaining and we had some great spells of possession and slick passing in the first half. Hopefully if this kind of performance becomes the norm we will see fans coming back and making the effort for the longer distance away games.

Substitutions

The only thing I have got to moan about really is the timing and choice of substitutions. What exactly are Morrison and Robson-Kanu going to achieve when brought on in injury time?

I wish Pulis would be a bit more proactive in this area, as he always appears to be hesitant to change anything even when we can see that the pressure is building against us and we begin sitting back. Several times I have noticed he has had substitutes ready on the touchline and then we have conceded while he has hesitated.

As I say this is a small gripe in the grand scheme of things and I am very pleased with the overall performance against Sunderland.

WHAM!

Pulling results out of the bag

Todays’s game against West Ham came as a surprise for most, but one of the reasons Pulis is still in management after all these years is the ability to pull results out of the bag when on a bad run. You will never lose several games on the bounce under Pulis.

The problem is – this is exactly the point the “anti Pulis” contingent have been trying to make. These footballers and this squad are not as crap as TP would make everyone believe. His excuse for his usual awful, defensive style is that “this is the hardest job he’s had”. He has managed to brainwash the media into thinking this, but we can see that is simply not true. We have seen we can play. We know we can play. That’s why it annoys us so much to see us sitting back against the likes of Northampton and Sunderland.

Another ploy TP uses is always bigging up the opposition, their players and how much they have spent in his pre and post match press conferences. This adds to the illusion that Pulis is doing such a good job at tiny, penniless, unambitious West Brom.

We always seem to pull a good performance out if the bag whenever Pulis is feeling the pressure, as well as when playing one of his former sides like Palace. This to me says our restrictive play is totally down to him. If he can go for it in these games why can’t we go for it a bit more often? We aren’t asking to play like Barcelona, just for Pulis to be reasonable against teams we are perfectly capable of beating.

An excellent performance all round

Despite all of the above, I am very very happy with the performance today. That is probably the best performance I have seen under Pulis. I think Nacer Chadli is exactly what we have been missing for a long time. I can’t really fault anyone today but McClean, Chadli and Rondon get special mentions. Some really excellent saves from Foster prevented us being even more nervous in the closing stages.

I think the crowd also got well behind the team today. It works both ways. We try to back the team regardless but show us style and passing like that and we will respond. We understand we are not Brazil but we don’t want to sit there thinking about all the other stuff we could be getting done on a Saturday. For once I agree with Pulis – today was very entertaining. That is all we’re asking for.

It was good to see Robson-Kanu and Nyom getting some game time. They both look good. It’s not their fault that we were expecting some higher profile names. I think they are solid additions and will be able to contribute a great deal throughout the season.

 

Oh…Jimmy Jimmy

Mozza’s new contract

One of the major summer sagas for Albion was James Morrison’s contract situation. After several contracts over 9 years, his final agreement had run down and Mozza was free to leave. We all thought the newly promoted Middlesbrough would be his destination, but it wasn’t to be. He then ended up signing a new contract with us along with a considerable pay rise. Call me cynical, but I believe that if Middlesbrough were interested and would have paid his wage demands, he would be a Boro player now.

By all accounts his new deal is around £65k a week. Personally I don’t think he should be on more than £40k but that may be pre sky money thinking on my part.

Moaning in the media

Only weeks after signing his new deal, he was sending out remarks in the press about being frustrated that he is not playing. This is a guy who got injured in January and played no further part in the last 13 games of the season. We stuck with him through his recovery through the summer, and he has been back to fitness mere weeks before complaining about lack of playing time, and threatening to join Celtic. I know he has been a loyal servant but he is now 30 years old and will need to accept that at some point that he will not be able to complete every game over a full season.

I don’t know why he isn’t being selected. I don’t know whether Pulis still has questions about his fitness, or if Pulis is trying different things now we have our wingers. But to sit out a few games then run to the media complaining is ridiculous and suggests arrogance to me. How about Pocognoli, and Gamboa, and McManaman, and every other bugger who was stuck in the bomb squad down in the dungeon for months?

False promises

When the story came out about Mozza being frustrated at the lack of game time, a lot were defending him, stating that he had been made the same promises that we had about ambitious transfer plans. Sorry, but Morrison is an employee who is paid handsomely – not a fan. We pay to watch our team and he gets paid to do his job and play football. He has been here 9 years. I’m sure over that time he has learnt (like the rest of us) what Peace and our transfer windows are like, and that you shouldn’t base your career decisions on what Peace says we are going to do.

Sorry but I refuse to have sympathy for someone who stayed here because we gave him what he wanted when no one else would. Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with Morrison as a footballer and he does bring quality to the team when he plays; I just wasn’t impressed with the comments in the media.

Latest thoughts on TP and the board

The Pulis Out camp is growing

People who follow me on twitter will know it has taken me longer than most to join the “Pulis Out” camp. I will admit I was very pleased when it was announced we had got Pulis on board. I never thought he would come into a set up like ours. Here was an established manager who would do things his way, instead of the committee of coaches and other randomers like McDonough doing what they liked. I maintain that the state we were in following Irvine’s departure meant that Pulis was a necessary evil.

Then – up until very recently – I was of the opinion that he is doing his best with the squad we have, and that his remit was to keep us in this league ready for a takeover. Over the past month I have become increasingly frustrated with the things he says and does. The final straw came for me when he started making comments about our loyal fans, who have been here – and will be here – far longer than he ever will.

At Bournemouth the team was fully backed throughout the game. Even through all of our own time wasting that started in the first 15 minutes of the match and aimless balls flying over Berahino’s head. During injury time there was a round of “Tony Pulis – your football is sh*t”, and at the final whistle it sounded to me like the majority were singing it. The interesting thing is that during TP’s reign these types of chants and grumblings were shouted down. Not on Saturday. Even the people who may have disagreed kept quiet. The tide had finally turned.

TP’s media friends

The latest person to jump to the defence of Pulis is Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail. The damage limitation exercise is well underway from Pulis (and the club hierarchy too, for that matter). For me these journalists are being briefed by Pulis to put “his side” of the story across. He wants everyone – including his next potential employer – to know how he has done nothing wrong and it is all that Jeremy Peace’s fault. Yes, we all know that Peace is no angel (and that’s a whole debate in itself), but isn’t a sign of a good work ethic to go above and beyond the minimum expectations? That leads me nicely on to my next section….

“I have done what has been asked of me”

In Pulis’ own words, his remit was to “keep the club in the Premier League whilst maintaining a profit”, which is fair enough. I can see how Peace would want to keep things just ticking over until he could sell us on.

One problem I have with this is about work ethic. I would have thought someone who constantly bangs on about “working hard” would have the motivation to go above and beyond minimum expectations put on him. Just because Peace wants 17th doesn’t mean you can’t personally aim higher. Is this why we did practically nothing after reaching 40 points last season? He could have just let us all know that the season had finished once we reached 40 points and not to bother attending.

Another problem with his side fo the story is all the things that no one asked him or forced him to do. Things such as:

  • Who asked him to sign players like Chester and McManaman and keep them on the bench? (We didn’t have a DOF then)
  • Who asked him to keep bringing Gardner on when we go 1-0 down?
  • Who asked him to instruct Foster to start time wasting in games after 15 minutes?
  • Who asked him to provide the most mind-numbingly boring football in the league?
  • Who asked him to treat the fans like idiots and make irrelevant comparisons with himself and Alan Irvine?
  • Who asked him to disrespect our new owner by never using his name and referring to him like the local takeaway?

If someone did indeed ask him to do these things then yes I agree with Pulis and they are the ones who need to be sacked. But I doubt anyone asked him to do these things.

Lai, Peace and Williams

I think it is obvious to everyone now that Pulis knows his days are numbered. He has become very defensive in his press conferences and interviews. He will never walk away due to his Palace debts so I believe he is trying to goad the board to sack him.

The problem we have at the moment is that we are in leadership limbo. Williams is releasing statements even though officially he isn’t really the chairman until the takeover is complete and Peace steps into his advisory role. Peace will not sack the manager when he will no longer own us past the end of this week, and Lai can’t sack anyone until he has control. If reports are correct then Mr Lai will officially become our main man this week. With relations between Pulis, Williams and the board obviously very strained at the moment, I would hope that we have been very actively looking for a replacement.

 

Hopefully by the end of October Pulis will have sailed off into the sunset with his severance package, and we will have a new manager in place.