I was out with some friends not so long ago and the discussion turned to which teams we thought would be relegated this season. As we were talking something strange happened to me. I suddenly realised I really do not want West Brom to go down.
This was a weird thing to realise, as I have no affinity to West Brom at all. I am not from, and have never even been to, Birmingham. None of my family or friends are Baggies fans. I was not alive during West Brom’s heyday in the Seventies and as West Brom have played most of their football during my lifetime outside of the top flight I never saw many of their matches on TV before they first came up to the Premier league a few years ago.
This season though, I have watched a few of their games and have come away with the same thought.
West Bromwich Albion currently plays the best football in the Premier League.
This may seem a bizarre statement given their precarious position in the league and their paucity in front of goal coupled with an alarming propensity to concede the most stupid goals you are ever likely to see, but seriously, watch how they play.
Most promoted teams adopt the Stoke style of play, although maybe not as extreme. They play the long ball game with a big, physical target man to knock the ball down and play from there. Many established teams play the same way (Bolton, Everton) and many teams play safety-first defensive football. Even teams at the top such as Liverpool, Chelsea and Aston Villa do not play the most attractive football.
With Man United still a little short of their best (I put them scoring 5 past West Brom down to the refereeing of Rob Styles) and Arsenal not playing as well as they can (they are badly missing Fabregas), West Brom have taken up the role as the passmasters of the league.
For example; earlier this season, I was watching the Newcastle v West Brom game and West Brom were a goal down with ten minutes left. Most teams in this situation would start smashing balls into the box at every opportunity in order to force a chance on goal. West Brom however, passed the ball around well, spread the play out to the wings and showed patience in looking for an opening in the Newcastle defence. I was extremely impressed.
West Brom’s struggles are mostly in front of both goals.They have lacked a real cutting edge up front for most of the season. Roman Bednar tries hard but is not a player that can be relied on for goals. I’ve never really been a big fan of Luke Moore and Craig Beattie is not good enough at this level. I do like the look of their loan signings, Jay Simpson and Marc-Antoine Fortune and they may represent West Brom’s most realistic chance of survival.
The defence however, is a real problem. Losing Meite to injury was a big loss and Donk and Barnett have struggled at times. Paul Robinson’s lack of pace gets exposed at times. Gianni Zuiverloon has looked good at times though. Scott Carson’s confidence is still shot to pieces after his mistake against Croatia and this has translated onto the pitch with him making several errors.
The real reason West Brom concedes so many is that because they play such open, attacking football, they often leave themselves vulnerable to counter-attacks. This has lead many TV pundits to say West Brom cannot succeed playing this style of football and should adopt similar tactics to the likes of Bolton, Stoke etc..
I am glad that Tony Mowbray has ignored this advice and West Brom continue to play good football. The results have improved too and West Brom have clawed their way back and have a real chance of escaping relegation, something that looked impossible 6 weeks ago. If this happens, Tony Mowbray should be in the mix for Manager of the Year.
With everyone from Fulham in 9th down to the bottom only separated by 7 points, it is geared up to be the most exciting battle for survival in Premier League history. I keep changing my mind as to who I think will go down on a weekly basis, but I hope that West Brom will continue to play attractive football for years to come.