Finally a goal, finally some chances and finally some hope after Albion’s comatose start to the season writes Baggies blogger Warren Stephens.
A mind-blowing performance Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Fulham was not, but there were some positive signs of the first green shoots of recovery, or should that be shots of recovery?
In our opening three league games I can barely recall the opposition keeper making a meaningful save, on Saturday we wasted a handful of chances before Gareth McAuley’s potentially season-changing injury-time equaliser.
Fulham themselves had three goals disallowed, all correctly, but Martin Jol conceded after the game that a draw was probably a fair reflection of the game and anything less would have been a cruel blow.
There were debuts for deadline-day signings Victor Anichebe and Morgan Amalfitano. Anichebe showed glimpses of his capability- that he was willing to sit on his centre-backs in a way that Nicolas Anelka doesn't. It probably helped the team’s shape a little bit.
Big Vic won a couple of high balls, occasionally linked the play up and almost scored late on when he rolled Brede Hangeland but saw his shot saved. My Everton-supporting mate at work reliably informs me that ‘rolling’ is Big Vic’s speciality.
Amalfitano showed some neat and promising touches, he’s certainly not built like a bison though. I hope he’ll be able to handle the physical demands of the Premier League.
Captain Chris Brunt returned to the starting line-up and put in a decent performance. He’s taken a lot of criticism in the last 12 months when, by his own admission, he didn’t have a full pre-season and struggled for a run of games. Now he is fully fit I hope and expect we’ll see a different player to the one we saw last season.
For anybody who doubts his contribution, there was a statistic released this week on dead-ball assists since August 2010 in the Premier League. Only Juan Mata has provided more than Brunt, who is level with Robin Van Persie and David Silva and ahead of Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard; he can still be a big player for us.
A word also for Saido Berahino, he brought energy and purpose to Albion’s game after his introduction and is swiftly becoming a genuine contender for a place in the starting line-up, which is great to see.
In the last few weeks I’ve heard and read a lot of criticism of manager Steve Clarke. A few have questioned whether last season’s success was attributable to a hangover from Roy Hodgson’s successful reign and some have doubted Clarke’s capability as our Head Coach going forward.
The opening performances of the season have been cause for concern, as were a few performances towards the end of last season, when arguably there were some mitigating circumstances in injuries and facing teams who needed to win much more than we did.
My personal opinion is that Clarke’s a talented and flexible coach and a good man-manager. I think we do have an issue in that since the middle of last season, teams have been reluctant to let us play on the counter-attack, a tactic which brought us much early-season success.
Certainly at home, the onus has been on us more to come out and attack the game and we’ve often had difficulty breaking stubborn sides down. That Billy Jones has arguably been our most potent attacking threat at home in recent months by providing the extra man on the overlap, probably reinforces that point.
I also think we have a problem in that our back-four is so painstakingly short of pace, that committing too many players high up the pitch at one time is nigh on committing footballing suicide, as we found out against Swansea in the second half.
We have to find a balance and an effective way of operating. Steve Clarke has been asking for some inventive additions to the playing squad in order to achieve that, he’s only just received them.
To my mind, unless our league position was beyond precarious at a later stage in the season or such a day arrives that Clarke has clearly lost the confidence and trust of his players, then talk of his departure, even speculatively, is very premature.
I’d argue that he deserves at least the opportunity to implement a more productive style with the new additions he’s been asking for all along. He also deserves time to work out where we accommodate the likes of Nicolas Anelka in this side, or if we accommodate him at all.
Onto Saturday’s crunch bottom-of-the-table clash with Sunderland. I’d be loath to use the term six-pointer, but with Manchester United, Arsenal, Stoke City (not them again), Liverpool and Chelsea around the corner, I’d say it’s fairly vital that we get our first win sooner rather than later.
Sunderland themselves are on a bad run but you never quite know what you’re going to get with Paulo Di Canio’s side. The likes of Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher are capable of doing some damage and I’m sure the latter would take great pleasure in doing so if his every touch is being booed, so it certainly won’t be an easy game.
Stephane Sessegnon should be clear to start against his old club, hopefully somebody has handed him the script beforehand so we can build on last week and get the season going. Come on you Baggies!!