Newcastle v West Brom – Saturday 9 May 3pm

Who Manages Them?  

When Alan Irvine got his mid-season marching orders, the Baggies moved so slowly to recruit Tony Pulis we knew they had seen his teams play before.

With relegation staring Albion in the face, that Pulis has never been relegated must have been the over-riding factor in his recruitment and forced them to ignore the appalling nature of the football that his teams have always played. The ‘Tramp In A Tracksuit’ Pulis has had mixed success over a 24 year career  but he has perfected a ‘style’ and gained continued praise from people within the game who don’t have to pay to watch it.

To be fair, he has improved Albion’s points total and league position and like Palace the previous season, he has kept WBA in the Premier League. Many NUFC fans I know have speculated on whether he would have made a good TOON manager and while we would undoubtedly be in a better league position than we are if he was in the SJP ejector seat, it would have been short-term gratification.

At his press conference this week, as ever performed standing up and looking like an extra from the Football Factory, Pulis himself this week has said he is “annoyed” with being labelled as someone who “just keeps clubs up” having never been relegated in his managerial career.

Fair enough, he has never managed a club with a budget that he could take to another level but like other purveyors of the aerial arts like Fat Sam, Blue Rinse Hughes and We Done Good Pardew, Chairmen good or bad are reluctant to spend a lot of money on ugly football.

Is he better than Alan Pardew? Possibly. Is he better than John Carver, the “best coach in the Premier League”? Definitely. Is he the best we could have got? Absolutely not.

Who Have They Signed? 

The Baggies board have backed their managers in the summer and January transfer windows, a novel way of running a football club eh?

Likewise, they have ‘invested’ in a spectrum of types of player rather than those of a ‘profile’ at SJP. Young players like Andre Wisdom on loan from Liverpool and Aussie left footer Jason Davidson from Heracles, squad players like Craig Gardner and fellow free transfer Georgios Samaras and exciting attacking options like Aide Brown Ideye, a summer signing from Dynamo Kiev. Not that he’s been very exciting this season, his four goals for the Baggies all coming in the same week in February and making the £12.6million WBA paid for him look like the worst deal since Nick Clegg agreed to make David Cameron’s tea five years ago.

The Baggies have bought experienced Premier League know-how into their team this season and from the outside that looks to be the main reason they are above us in the table. Joleon Lescott may not be the greatest defender in the world but he’s been solid in blue and white this season and would have fitted well into an NUFC team, if not an NUFC strategy. Having defenders who can defend seems not to be part of our long-term plan.

tony pulis

Darren Fletcher has also proved to be a good free transfer signing, a combative runner in midfield, a captain who has a voice and demands respect because of his effort, two things United have lacked this season. Fletcher may not have any resale value and may be of the ‘wrong age’ but him and Jack Colback would have been a much more determined midfield than expecting Jack Colback to do it all on his own.

And a skipper with a voice would have been a more calming influence than a skipper with an annual Easter holiday to Argentina booked in and more interested in writing letters asking for supporters to back the team than in organising a defence.

Who Have We Seen Before?

No former Newcastle stars appear in West Brom’s squad though pantomime villains come in the shape of ex-Mackem goalscorers at SJP, Craig Gardner and Stephane Sessegnon, and just plain villain Callum McManaman. The January £6.4million signing from Wigan was responsible for an FA rule change a couple of years ago when his horror tackle on Massadio Haidara left the TOON player in the hospital and players fighting on the pitch. McManaman himself says that the tackle still haunts him, though he seems unapologetic about it all:

“It’s a hard one because I’ve always tackled so I can’t just stop that. I’m just going to have to learn to do it right. I was just excited. I’d waited for my chance for so long and I felt I was ready and then that happened. I had forgotten about it but people keep reminding me!”

I’m sure we’ll be reminding you about it today.  Of course the FA ducked the issue completely, the rule change they agreed to was that players could be banned retrospectively in exceptional circumstances even if the referee had seen the incident and taken no action. The change they should have made was to ask themselves why they were employing officials who had seen horror tackles like McManaman’s and considered it to be fair.

A Special Mention For:

Saido Berahino, cracking young forward and motor-mouth who had the audacity to suggest in public that at the end of the season an intention “move on to better things”. Supposedly West Brom’s hierarchy were furious with Berahino’s comments in an interview they did not sanction and the youngster was fined by the club for his behaviour.

The West Midlands club later became so exasperated with his conduct they abandoned plans to restart negotiations over a new contract and Berahino’s team-mates at The Hawthorns were so fed up with his behaviour they started to ignore the Burundi-born forward. Blimey, all because he said he wanted to “move onto bigger things.” Mike Ashley has built his whole club strategy around exactly that. If one of our players says they want to “move onto bigger things”, there is a helicopter waiting outside for them five minutes later.

How Have They Done This Season?  

Away from home Pulis can set his team up as a defensive wall around the goal and with 14 PL clean sheets this season you have to say that it has generally worked, the Baggies have kept three consecutive clean sheets since conceding 10 goals in the 3 games previous. The 4-5-1 Pulis adopted against Manyoo last time out worked out well enough, WBA’s 0-1 win fortuitous but hard fought and Louis Van Gaal’s predicted “game of patience” undone by set plays, something Pulis teams have always excelled at.


Are We Going To Win:  

Just like the Swansea game, you can’t hope for more than mid-table opponents with nothing to play for when you need three points.

Just like the Swansea game, WBA will prove to be difficult opponents if we allow them to play the game they want to play. West Brom are disciplined, hard working and resilient, everything we are not. Let’s hope we can be exciting and attacking, something they are not.

It is up to those wearing black and white to out-fight, out-play and out-score the Baggies, plain and simple, they just need to win. Hopefully John Carver has come up with a strategy to do that and the players are on message after the meetings they have had this week.

Hopefully Carver’s strategy has no more diamonds, no more Colback at left back or right midfield, no more new formations or positions that the players are not used to, it is time to get back to basics. The back four and a midfield three are comfortable in that formation, they have played it on and off for the last five years. Play that formation and pick players who are comfortable there.

tony pulis

If Dummett is not fit, play a centre half at centre half, even if he is only 19 years old, Anita or Taylor at right back, Jonas at left back, a midfield three of Colback, Abeid and Sissoko and tell those 7 players to be compact and combative and not to get caught out of position.

Ahead of them, Cabella may benefit from more of a free role, he is supposedly a £13million player and the next three games are the time he has to show it. Cabella needs to get the ball anywhere on the pitch no more than 25 yards away from the Baggies goal and when he gets it he needs to make something happen. He’s a playmaker who can’t defend, so let him attack and let the others do the defending.

Between Cisse, Perez and Riviere, they need to come up with the goals from what Cabella can provide. And the fans? Well as Tony Pulis says:

“Newcastle is a big club; it’s got unbelievable expectations. It’s a big animal and it needs feeding and if it’s not being fed then it growls and that’s what that club is doing at the moment, it’s growling.”

Growl the lads to victory today.