After two disappointing performances over the Christmas period at home to Bournemouth and away to Swansea, the visit of Newcastle United all of a sudden had ‘three-pointer’ written all over it, as the majority of the teams below us had picked up vital points to close the gap.
After a decent unbeaten run of five matches, which came against the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool, things were starting to look up for Baggies fans, and with upcoming fixtures against the lower league opposition many an, me included, were predicting a rise up the Premier league table.
However, two very mediocre outings, in which we lost 2-1 at home to Bournemouth and 1-0 away at Swansea, meant suddenly we were only a few points from the relegation zone. Next up was another of the Premier Leagues strugglers Newcastle United with the fixture now becoming a must not lose game.
Pulis’ team selections had been the main cause of concern among the West Brom faithful. At home to Bournemouth, Pulis continued to adopt a rigid 4-2-3-1 formation with many a fan crying out for more attack minded players to be included in the Welshman’s starting XI.
Their concerns were justifiable as Bournemouth comfortably controlled the game, dominating possession and carving out the better goal scoring opportunities. Yes our afternoon was made more difficult by the dismissal of our hot-headed Irish winger James McClean, however the Cherries were well on top before he was sent to the showers with lone striker Salomon Rondon very much an isolated figure in the opposition’s half.
Next up was Swansea away, where Pulis again continued to baffle the fans with what can only be described as the most drabbest of starting XI’s he has chosen all season. Red cards to McClean and Rondon in the game against Bournemouth had meant his hand was forced somewhat, but the team he selected was completely void of any pace and attacking intent.
The game finished 1-0 to the Swans with the team creating very little in terms of goal-scoring opportunities. With no manager and a squad lacking in confidence, Swansea were there for the taking, but our over cautious head coach chose to play it safe, as he so often does, which in turn cost us the match.
Next up were the Magpies. Albion fans looked on with trepidation to Pulis’ starting XI worried that he would continue in the same vein as to how he had against Bournemouth and Swansea by picking a team again lacking in creativity and flair. However, as the clock struck 2pm on Monday afternoon the inclusion of Stephane Sessegnon and, most notably, Victor Anichebe took many by surprise.
However, the re-shuffle turned out to be a masterstroke. Sessegnon and Anichebe were by far the best players on the pitch, causing Newcastle a whole host of problems throughout the game. The score-line flattered the Geordies as on another afternoon it could of quite easily been three or four for the men in blue and white.
Even though Pulis adopted his favored 4-2-3-1 formation it seemed as though Morrison and Sessegnon were given more license to get forward, create and get at Newcastle from the off. It paid off and we deservedly came away with the vital three points, giving Albion a decent six-point cushion to the drop zone.
Even though I was as surprised as many to see the inclusion of Anichebe I was encouraged at the fact Pulis had seen that his approach and team selection wasn’t working and made the decision to make changes.
In recent seasons, previous managers such as Steve Clarke and Roberto Di Matteo had been dismissed after poor runs in the festive period. This in my opinion had been down to their reluctance to divert away from their favored approach and players when things were obviously not working.
However, Pulis thankfully hasn’t followed suit and seems capable of noticing when things aren’t going according to plan and that a re-jig was in order. I think it also shows that our head coach is deserved of more time to shape and mould this team as he hasn’t quite yet got the right players at his disposal to fully implement the system he would like to.