Well it had to end sometime didn’t it? Any chances of Albion extending an unbeaten mini-run were stolen at Anfield on Saturday as we suffered a comprehensive 4-1 defeat writes West Brom blogger Warren Stephens.
Steve Clarke later conceded that Albion were distinctly second-best on the day and I don’t think many supporters who witnessed the game will disagree with those sentiments.
Clarke controversially recalled Nicolas Anelka in favour of flavour-of-the-month Saido Berahino and deployed Big Victor Anichebe in a wide role.
I personally don’t see Anichebe as a wide man, his physical strength and hold-up play are more befitting of a central striker in my mind and in much the same way Markus Rosenberg and Shane Long have suffered in wide positions over the last 12 months, I don’t think we’ll see the best of Big Vic out there.
I’ve voiced my support for Steve Clarke in these blogs over recent months and will continue to do so as I believe he’s a really talented coach, but if there’s one area where I frequently disagree with him, it’s the deployment of traditional strikers in wide areas, particularly when you have the likes of Chris Brunt warming the substitutes bench.
Perhaps more of a debating point in recent days was Nicolas Anelka’s inclusion at Anfield. I personally don’t begrudge Clarke shuffling the pack, he sees these players every day in training, which is a lot more than the rest of us do.
If I’m brutally honest, I thought Berahino was ineffective at Stoke the previous weekend and it might be wise if we don’t place too much of a burden on his young shoulders, too soon.
The issue with Anelka’s an interesting one though, where do we accommodate him in this side? I have doubts about him operating as the lone front man, his natural inclination is just as often to run back into the traffic as it is to run in behind the opposition and to my mind, playing a 4-5-1/4-3-3, you’re only ever as offensive as your central striker in that system, which is arguably an issue if he’s picking the ball up off the toes of Youssouf Mulumbu as it makes it very difficult to stretch the opposition.
Can he operate behind a lone front man? Possibly, but probably not as naturally or as impressively as Stephane Sessegnon has been, or as industriously as James Morrison can. It’s certainly a conundrum for Steve Clarke to solve in the coming weeks or months.
However, I think it’s a nice conundrum to have and certainly one Albion as a club wouldn’t have dreamed of having in recent years. Anelka may not be the player he was a decade ago, but he still brings a different option to the squad and I hope that, given time and patience, we’ll see much more from him in an Albion shirt.
Going back to the game itself, despite all those ramblings about team selection, I don’t think a different line-up would have made an ounce of difference to the result.
Despite the obvious improvements we’ve seen in this Albion side in recent years, there are still a handful of teams we are likely to lose more games against than win. Liverpool, despite us enjoying recent success against them, remain one of those teams, purely because their resources dwarf ours.
I think that for us to be competitive in games away to top six sides, as we were at Old Trafford, we need a handful of factors to be evident in tandem. One of those is their star player not having an absolute blinder, which – and credit to Luis Suarez for this – he well and truly did. Suarez is a thoroughly dislikeable character at times, but he’s a hell of a footballer.
I counted that Liverpool had two shots on target in the first half an hour and were 2-0 up. Sure, they could’ve added a few more as the game opened up thereafter, but on another day, last year and the year before for example, they don’t score two goals and the game remains in the balance.
Similarly the fourth goal, you may argue that Daniel Sturridge was afforded too much space, even when considering that we were chasing the game, but even still, he won’t score another goal like that for a while.
The third goal was a disappointment, but I still think the players deserve some credit for persisting until the final whistle.
We had 15 shots in the end, I certainly think we’ve played worse at Anfield and lost by less, one example I can recall is losing 1-0 up there under Bryan Robson – it should have been 10!
This weekend sees the visit of Crystal Palace and the return of Super Kevin Phillips and Jerome Thomas. With a trip to Stamford Bridge on the horizon, I’d say it’s fairly important that Albion get a positive result.
Super Kev’s acrimonious departure continues to stir debate amongst the Hawthorns faithful, should we have kept him for another year? Would it have kept us up? Who knows, but I don’t think any of us will forget some of the goals he scored.
The Championship-winning promotion season under Tony Mowbray, in particular, is something that will always stay with me. It’d be somewhat fitting if he gets a few minutes on the pitch tomorrow so that we can show our appreciation for him.
Similarly Jerome Thomas returns to B71 having left in the summer. His last couple of years at the club weren’t as productive as I’m sure he’d have liked, but he was a central figure in the Roberto Di Matteo promotion season and his destruction of Barcary Sagna at that famous 3-2 win at the Emirates is something that will live long in the memory. I hope that JT too, gets a good reception.
Come on you Baggies!!