West Brom against Newcastle United, The Throstles against The Magpies, the battle of two teams who desperately need a win to stop the rot and climb away from the relegation zone.
Both teams come on the back of 1-0 defeats to teams who hadn’t won for ages and both teams have the comfort of being able to blame bad luck, after Swansea Baggies manager Tony Pulis said:
“The lads are disappointed, their spirit was fantastic, but we have to hope we get a little bit of luck.”
While Steve McClaren equally whined:
“Last kick of the game, what a huge disappointment. I am disappointed for the players because they gave everything. They did not deserve to lose.”
Well lose they both did, the only consolation today is that both teams can’t lose, though either team winning is probably only slightly more likely.
Managers Tony Pulis and Steve McClaren have much in common in their negativity, neither play with two up front regularly, West Brom’s 4-1-4-1 in defeat at Swansea more dull, because Swansea hadn’t won since Shirley Bassey was a bairn and the Swans scored after nine minutes, the Baggies waiting until the hour to make a substitution and go for the draw.
‘Like all of your Black Fridays rolled into one’
On Saturday against Everton, with three minutes to go at 0-0, Steve McClaren also made a substitution to go for the draw.
Both managers seem unable to comprehend playing two up front, certainly our best results have come with two strikers playing up front and it is likely that both teams will pack the midfield today. Pulis and McClaren also share a perception that they are much better at their jobs than they actually are, a perception re-enforced by pundits around the world who claim that both managers are top class despite there being very little supporting evidence.
Our own Head Coach is currently top class sitting third bottom in the Premier League and our only visible positive over the past few weeks seems to be that the players are now trying harder for their 50k a week.
Pulis is currently top class having taken only six points from the last 24. No doubt both managers will stick up for each other, Pulis claiming McClaren has a difficult job up here in the land of the deluded, McClaren will reply by saying that Pulis is one of the great Premier League managers. Never having been relegated, obviously being something that all managers should aspire to, as opposed to actually winning something.
But what of the teams?
Well, in defence NUFC have looked more solid recently, though Rob Elliot regularly being our man of the match is both a sobering and surprising part of that. Daryl Janmaat is improving after a shaky start to the season but getting booked after 10 minutes does nothing for my blood pressure and he needs to be banned from cutting inside onto his left foot, nothing good ever comes of that.
Dummett looks back to his best, he’s no Roberto Carlos don’t get me wrong but at his best he makes very few mistakes and although Deulofeu gave him a hard time on Saturday, that’s the just the difference between the youth academies of Barcelona and West Allotment.
If Wijnaldum stops giving him the ball and expecting him to do something with it, Dummett could continue to function for the rest of the season. Both of our full backs’ height will come in handy today against a West Brom team good at set pieces and where you have to be over seven foot to get a game at the back. For them, Johnny Evans will be denied the chance to have a spit-off with Papiss Cisse due to our forward’s groin, but he still has some way to go to be as odious as Jonas Olsson.
The Baggies midfield of marathon running scrotes will be made up of the likes of Gardner, Fletcher, Brunt, Morrison and McManaman, we are spared the sight of suspended James Mclean. It seems fitting that Tony Pulis has such a liking for ex-Mackems, somehow it seems like a marriage made in heaven, or perhaps a marriage made on Jeremy Kyle, the West Bromwich midfield is like a never-ending Black Friday at B&M Bargains.
‘Time to get more involved Georgie’
Not that our Rolls Royce midfielders have a habit of overcoming such aggressiveness, Wijnaldum struggled in the face of similar effort by Everton’s dogs of war, Anita and Colback looked exhausted covering for his continual loss of possession and it may be that Tiote, Thauvin and even Gouffran might come in today.
McClaren may consider that this is our best chance of three points over the holiday period and too many changes would be counterproductive but Colback in particular looks in need of a rest.
After the holiday games I’d even be tempted to give him the Captaincy, hoy him at left back, tell him he can play there for the next ten years and that he’s got a shot at Euro 2016 if he makes a go of it. Certainly he’s going backwards in midfield and with Wijnaldum only fleetingly involved on the left, it looks like we are taking our Corsa out for a spin because we don’t want to get our Lamborghini dirty. Results suggest that if we are not careful, our Lamborghini will be gone by May and we’ll wish we got more miles out of it while we had it.
Up front, a Baggies team who rarely score from open play could have done without most talented striker Saido Berahino becoming disenfranchised after a deadline day move to Spurs fell through in the summer. He’ll probably play and is always a threat, though whether his heart will be in it is another thing entirely. £15million Rondon is suspended after being sent off for cheek-brushing against Bournemouth, other options include Anichebe, who seems to hate us because Kevin Nolan broke his leg at SJP rather than taking it out on Kevin Nolan. Also, forgotten ex-Mackem Sessegnon and 97 year old Rickie Lambert, who will probably be tucked up in bed having played on Boxing Day.
Up front for us Siem De Jong might come in, Ayoze struggled against Everton because of a boggy pitch, an aggressive opponent and a Timelord for a referee who had gone back to 1973 in his Tardis and thought that a tackle could be through the man and two footed as long as the ball moved an inch afterwards.
Mitrovic struggled for different reasons, he missed two great chances, his lay-offs too often fancy rather than accurate and his attempts to out-muscle Everton’s centre halves were more petulant than intimidating. Stones seemed more worried about Mitrovic when Stones had the ball than he did when the Serb had it, Stones knew that there was infinitely more chance that Mitrovic would do something to him than do something with the ball.
Still, I hope he plays today for two reasons, firstly there is the chance that having watched Romelu Lukaku run our whole defence ragged on Saturday he might have seen some light, he might have learned from a player who is a physical presence and a genuine threat to goal rather than just physically threatening.
Secondly, today he’ll see that just lumbering around like a knacker will only lead to one thing, a place in a Tony Pulis team. If that doesn’t up his game, nothing will. Whoever plays, we have to play two up front, our best results have been with two up front. It doesn’t necessarily suit De Jong who seems a better player with time and space, which he won’t get in this league. It doesn’t necessarily suit Perez but the kid seems to be able to play in most positions and in most tactical line-ups, he’s not always great but he’s always one of the most likely to produce something.
Playing two up top definitely suits Mitrovic. Up front on his own he reminds me of an ex-con let out of jail and the first thing he does is find the nearest bar and go for a pint. He’s all smiles at the start but the longer he’s there on his own with no one to talk to, the more likely he is to kick off. By the third pint he’s just running around the bar looking for someone to fight. Having someone else up there seems to keep Mitrovic on the lime and sodas.
To win today we’ll have to nullify the Baggies’ biggest threat, it’s obvious what they are good at. Pulis sides have always been good at scoring from set pieces and not giving anything away, just like Fat Sam’s sides, two coaches who seem to think that if you work on the small details the bigger picture will look after itself.
‘Craig Gardner: Isn’t the Premier League the best in the world?’
Unfortunately for Pulis and the Baggies fans, an over-reliance on the detail means that the bits in between, the bits we call the ‘football’ often plays second-fiddle and becomes second rate. If the adverts are more interesting than the TV show then it is time to switch off and that is what the TV has done to West Brom. Of the 36 PL games shown in December and January, WBA don’t feature at all.
The Virgin Media boss Tom Mockridge has been pursuing a better deal for UK football fans by asking why more games aren’t live on TV, all Spanish and German games are available to subscription payers. Perhaps the two things are linked. You only have to watch a game in which a Tony Pulis team participates to realise why all games aren’t on TV. It’s the televisual equivalent of watching a dead whale rot on a beach.
My suggested team…
Not being on TV will be a welcome relief to our players, though that doesn’t mean they will play any better or get better results. Our last 4 games have all been televised and while we would probably have settled for seven points from those games, the fact that six of them came against Spurs and Liverpool means that we are disappointed by that total. In all four games we have had opportunities to win and been the better team in spells, in all four games we have seemed happy to not be in possession of the ball, happy to play like the away team even though we were at home for three of them.
No doubt Steve McClaren will use that tactic again today and for one reason who can blame him. What’s the point in playing possession football when you haven’t got anyone who can keep the ball? With West Brom in the same boat, who will keep possession of the ball? Will this be the first ever PL game where the ball boys have a higher possession rate than either of the teams? No wonder the nation doesn’t want to watch.
Tony Pulis and Steve McClaren are two managers who seem to celebrate not losing like it is the same as winning and for the time being, it is the supporters of WBA and NUFC who are suffering because of it. We just have to hope that we are suffering less than they are come 5pm.
WBA v NUFC, brilliant! Howay The Lads.