It is no secret that for a promoted side, West Brom enjoyed a relatively strong start to their Premiership season. After a 6-0 thumping by the champions on the opening day, the Baggies dusted themselves down and went on a run that saw them pick up 15 out of the next 24 available points, the highlights being an incredible comeback win at the Emirates and a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford. Since then however, a downturn has occurred in the Baggies fortunes and the last 10 games have seen 7 matches placed in the loss column, and only one victory.
Around November, pundits started indicating their belief that this West Brom was a different kind of monster than the one last seen in the Premiership. They argued that Di Matteo had managed to instill a touch more defensive steel in the side, without losing the attractive brand of attacking football the team has been playing. Quite where they got this idea from is questionable. The last clean sheet West Brom managed was on Saturday, 21 August in a 1-0 victory over Sunderland, and only Blackpool have conceded more goals than the Baggies this term.
Despite all of this, they still sit above both Wolves and West Ham in the table. Questions then, need to be asked about why Di Matteo has been relieved of his duties while McCarthy and Grant lumber on. The most important reason is almost certainly one of expectations. West Ham and Wolves have near enough constantly sat in the bottom three all season. They have become accustomed to this precarious position and have adopted a backs to the wall mentality. West Brom in contrast enjoyed a strong start, sitting as high as 4th in November and many wrote them off as relegation candidates, prematurely declaring them safe. A swift decline is much more alarming than constant struggle and the West Brom board has hit the panic button. They are at fault, for letting their early success cloud their expectations so severely.
Wolves may sit in 19th place, but one thing that is working to Mick McCarthy’s advantage is the number of big scalps they have taken this season. They have already beaten Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Their form against teams in and around them however, has been comparatively dreadful. What the results against the big teams show the board at Molineux is that offing McCarthy could be a huge mistake. McCarthy just needs to find a little consistency from his players, especially away from home. The spine of his team is certainly strong enough to compete at Premier League level.
West Ham on the other hand have enjoyed a moderately successful run to the Semi Final of the Carling Cup. This has definitely been Avram Grant’s saving grace. Their form in the Premiership has been inconsistent. After beating Wolves 2-0, they slipped to a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Newcastle. After beating Blackpool 3-1, Birmingham manage to prise 3 points away with a 1-0 win over the Hammers. Some have observed that they are fundamentally taking one step forward, two steps backward and remain rooted to the bottom of the table as a result. A few weeks ago it seemed inevitable that Grant was going to be sacked, but David Gold, David Sullivan and the board seemingly made a U turn and have decided to keep Grant on, at least for the moment.
Di Matteo certainly has not been helped by factors that are beyond his control. West Brom have accumulated 7 red cards this season, a huge disadvantage when trying to claim 3 points. His defenders have performed questionably at the best of times, dreadfully at the worst. Scott Carson had a decent enough start to the season but has since reverted back to his usual state, a talented enough goalkeeper in most respects, but ultimately let down his proneness to error. The Englishman is always an accident waiting to happen. Di Matteo lost his patience with Carson and dropped him in favour of Boaz Myhill. Myhill is a little more consistent, but lacks the shot stopping ability of Carson.
Top scorer Peter Odemwingie has chipped in with a decent amount of goals (9) and looks capable of putting chances away when presented with them, but the Nigerian is frequently nursing a knock of some kind, which stops him reaching the top of his game. Aside from Odemwingie, the goals have not been flowing from all areas of the pitch. Di Matteo would have liked Chris Brunt to chip in with a few more goals but he has managed just 2 goals all season.
In many ways West Brom and Blackpool are in very similar situations. Both promoted teams, both enjoyed a strong start to the season, both play attacking football, both are brittle at the back, and most important, both have slid alarmingly down the table of late. Ian Holloway’s men are on an equally bad run, so why has Di Matteo been disposed of, while Holloway is seemingly untouchable at Blackpool? Once again it is a question of expectations. Blackpool qualified for the Premiership against all odds, and most expected them to comfortably finish bottom, therefore Hollaway is given much more leeway than Di Matteo was allowed. The powers that be in Blackpool have not allowed early success to delude them as those at West Brom have. The Baggies were always likely to be around the relegation zone. After early success however, fears of “Doing a Hull” are rife.
While West Brom may be showing they are destined to be a yo-yo team once again, sacking the manager is not always the right solution. Changing managers does not always prompt an instant transformation. Blackburn sacked Sam Allardyce, but little has changed in their fortunes. They are performing around the same level as before Allardyce was sacked. West Brom may have slid dramatically down the table, but their disloyalty to the man who got them into the Premierhsip in the first place is a sad indication of the increasing difficulty and fickleness of football management.
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