Ahead of the visit of the struggling Baggies, we had a chat to our pals at Baggies Facts on the season so far, thoughts ahead of the game and much more.
Q. What did you make of the game between the two sides at The Hawthorns earlier in the season?
Where to begin… A complete capitulation on our behalf. A painfully common occurrence of us going a man down during a period where we were struggling to compete with 11 players let alone 10. An embarrassing defeat that felt like a substantial step towards the beginning of the end of Slavs reign.
Q. How has this campaign been for the Baggies so far?
I think any football fan can see that it’s been nothing short of a disaster. From investment over the summer, to player form, to results, to tactics… From the get go we looked painfully out of our depth and it became more evident by the week.
Q. It seemed from the outside looking in, the sacking of Bilic was a little harsh – is that true?
Controversial, but no… In my honest opinion. Many fans will disagree. It was definitely harsh at face value but Slav was out of ideas, people who don’t follow the Albion were quick to look past just how bad our form and performances had been in the six months leading to our (very lucky) promotion. We just about scraped second place and that was down to other teams dropping points and not us making sure of it. Promotion was a two year plan and in Slavs defence he did it in one, but the reality is I think everyone (including him) knew that this team wasn’t good enough for the Premier League and ultimately he became the victim of his own success.
There were parts of the team that we NEEDED to invest in and Slav went for other players that have flattered to deceive. It’s no fluke that the majority of Slavs signings now don’t make the startingline up and we are now just starting to play half decent… but to clarify, I loved Slav as a man, he was an infectious character and got the fans back on board after a torrid few years and he had the team playing some fantastic stuff in the first six months of his tenure. He left a positive mark on this club and I don’t think any Albion fan would ever speak badly of him and things MAY have been different if he was backed a little more over the summer.
Q. How have the fans taken to Sam Allardyce since he arrived?
His start was woeful. A lot of Albion fans loved Slav so to replace him with a self confessed Wolves fan was never going to go down brilliantly. That mixed with a terrible start didn’t bode well. The team didn’t seem comfortable with him or his tactics to begin with and his first 6/7 games were diabolical. Though in his defence a lot of the players at his disposal simply weren’t good enough for this level. Since the January window and since bringing in capable players that he knew we needed, we have looked a different team. We look a lot more solid on the whole and the players actually look like they know their roles and the last four games we have definitely turned a corner. Sadly, it’s too little too late.
Q. How was your business in the January transfer window and do you have needs that have not been addressed?
No-one can argue with the January additions, Yokuslu has looked a different grade and is that CDM we have been crying out for since the Yacob days. We conceded so many goals purely because we didn’t have the midfield to protect an already inexperienced and suspect defence. The likes of Bartley and O’Shea have looked like different players since Yokuslu has been in front of them. Ashley Maitland Niles has brought legs, energy and a touch of class that we’ve also been painfully short of and as for the big man Diagne up top… Although not the most technically ‘gifted’ of players and he should have put a couple more away, he has caused problems and made himself more chances in five games than the rest of our strike force has done for the entirety of the season and that speaks volumes. The only sad part is they have been stop gap signings and it’s a shame that none of them will stick around for Championship football… DONT FALL IN LOVE WITH LOAN PLAYERS!
Q. Who has been the stand out player for West Brom so far this season?
It has to be Sam Johnstone, he has received a hell of a lot of stick since he came in. Yes there are areas of his game that need work but the fact of the matter is we would be on even less points this season without him. He has made some remarkable saves this year and it’s nice to see him get praised rather than slated on a weekly basis nowadays. A lot of people forget that he was brought in to replace Ben Foster who was an exceptional keeper that some fans didnt realise how lucky we were to have and he always had incredibly big shoes to fill. The fact that he probably won’t be with us next year and a Premier League team will more than likely snap him up proves that he’s a great keeper.
Q. What do you make of Palace this season?
Palace, in my opinion have just lacked consistency. Everyone knows that they won’t be challenging for Europe any time soon but people also know that they’re too good to go down. There are some great players in the squad and on their day are a fantastic team. I think the ongoing Zaha saga is starting to effect the team in general though and as soon as his future is sorted the club can then plan to move forward with or without him. I’ve seen Roy get alot of stick lately though so I’d be curious to know your current outlook?!
Q. Fans not being able to go to games has been huge for what has been almost a year but how does it feel that there is some real light at the end of the tunnel with the potential for a return next season?
Let’s hope so. It’s a generic thing to say but I honestly don’t think Albion would have been as poor as they have been if they’d had the fans behind them. Most clubs will say the same but the fans really are the 12th man for a team like us. Especially in the Premier League, we are the underdogs in the majority of games and those fans really do get behind the team and give them that push that has been lacking this season. Some players wouldn’t have got away with playing as poorly as they have been with the fans there too! I’m sure every fan of every club would say the same though. Football simply isn’t the same without fans and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I can’t wait to get back!
Q. Name one player from each team that you believe will be a threat to the opposition in this match.
I think Eze looks one hell of a player. He has that natural flair and technical ability that can’t be taught and is always capable of producing some magic, he’s a great player to watch and can always be a threat. As for the Albion, I’d have to say Diagne as he’s just a handful. Any defenders will naturally struggle against a 6 ft 4 striker running at them and as mentioned, his presence up top has made a big and positive difference to our play.
Q. …and finallly, your all important prediction?
I’ll go for 1-1. Although it will go down as a “must win” for ourselves I can’t help but think it will be a draw. We are generally a lot tighter defensively now but we are never going to score many either. Clean sheets are still a rarity so I think we will share the spoils.