In Toon Today: Newcastle v West Brom – The Return of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Who Manages Them?  

Tony Pulis, the footballing zombie apocalypse, in a tracksuit.

In his press conferences he seems friendly, positive, sometimes even interesting, but once his team steps onto the pitch they become a herd of brainless monsters –  if the first one doesn’t get you, the second one will. It’s an increasingly well-trodden path for the Welshman, before becoming the Throstles boss Pulis has always been in demand by Premier League Chairmen in danger of relegation and looking for a steady hand to guide them to the safety of the Premier League mid-table compound.

(Caption for image above: ‘A solitary West Brom fan watches a Tony Pulis training session yesterday’.)

That he has never managed a relegated team, a stat which both he and the press cling to like a World Cup winners medal, is often enough for him to get a job but not enough for him to keep it for long. Reality soon bites, as does the football. The shame for West Brom’s fans is that the team have some decent players; Berahino can play, which is probably why he doesn’t play under Pulis.

newcastle v west brom

‘Saido Berahino: Big heart, big coat.’

Plus, the Baggies have invested heavily in players, it’s just unfortunate that they were players that Tony Pulis wanted. As a fan, you know that when your team plays 4-2-3-1 at home and Darren Fletcher is the creative central player of the ‘3’, well you know you are not going to score too many goals. That’s the way it turned out on Tuesday, a late Rondon equaliser a fortunate point saver against relegation competitors Swansea. A fair chunk of the Baggies’ support had left by then and Pulis’ assistant David Kemp commented on some of those who stayed boo-ing the team off after that draw:

“Fans pay their money but I’ve got to be honest, I don’t quite understand that. In the old days, when I was a young man, fans came along to cheer their heroes, now they seem to wait for an opportunity to have a bit of a moan. Tony isn’t an inexperienced manager, he’s had nearly 1,000 games. You want the fans to be your 12th man. I don’t think the booing helps, that’s my own personal opinion.”

It may be true that boo-ing doesn’t help the team but there is very little else a supporter can do to register dis-satisfaction with a performance and as for them being “heroes”, well I’m not sure who Kemp supported as a boy and how long ago that was, but it is difficult to imagine a world where many of WBA’s players would be classified as a hero.

There will be no heroes on the pitch today and there will be none in the dugout. All there will be is a team managed by a man who stops his teams playing football, against a team managed by a man who can’t get his team to play football.

Soccer zombies, the skill is dead, the without-the-ball virus has taken hold, the ineffective against the infected.

newcastle v west brom

‘The ball. A victim of the Pulis Zombie Apocalypse.’

Who Have They Signed:    

Another club who spent big in the summer, around £30million, West Brom’s most significant signing was probably Jose Salomon Rondon from Zenit St Petersburg for £12million.

It was significant for two reasons, firstly because it was another example of the Premier League’s bargaining power when unfancied teams could attract top class players ahead of more illustrious rivals in foreign leagues, Rondon to WBA, Shaqiri to Stoke, Steve Harper to Sunderland.

It was significant secondly because of all of the players the Baggies signed, Rondon was the only one who anyone else would want. Venezuelan Rondon should occupy the lonely ‘1’ position in Pulis’s 4-2-3-1 Walking Dead and his slow start in England, 5 goals in 24, should not mean that he is under-estimated. His two seasons in Malaga and 25 goals made Rondon one of the most sort after young players when he went to Russia in 2012, a good season and a half at Rubin Kazan saw a move to Zenit and the Russian league and cup double and now he is in the West Midlands. He’s complained of feeling “tired” at the Baggies already, chasing all of those Pulis humps upfield must take its toll, but he’s a threat to any defence and we’ll need to watch him today.

Other signings include controversial ex-Mackem James McClean for £1.5million from Wigan who should play today, scouse pensioner Rickie Lambert for £3million from Liverpool who will make the bench and third choice goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard from Manyoo who won’t.

Transfer window loan signings in midfield Alex Pritchard and Sandro might play, but two players who won’t are firstly Serge Gnabry, re-called by Arsenal after not getting a game during his WBA loan spell which isn’t surprising really, he can play so there can be no place for him during the Pulis apocalypse. The other player who won’t play is former Hull centre half James Chester, signed in the summer for £8million and on the bench since.

Who? £8million? James Chester? I mean you’d think for that money he’d be an integral part of the Pulis undead revolution as he mercilessly bleeds his side of any talent but no, the bloke has never played. He started complaining early about not being in the team, especially with his place in the Wales squad for Euro 2016 in jeopardy:

“I want to play and I thought I was coming to West Brom to play in the Premier League. I’m 12 games into a four-year contract but I’m not one who likes to sit and watch.”

At least you’re getting paid to watch it fella.

Who Have We Seen Before?   

No ex-magpies in the West Bromwich squad but it is full of pantomime villains. Ex-Mackem James McClean is never far from a publicity disaster, whether it is his horror tackles, failure to toe the FA ‘poppy’ line or reaction to supporter abuse.

Ex-Mackem Johnny Evans won’t play today, his hamstring has gone so he’ll miss out on the chance to gob at one of our players at SJP for the second season running.

Callum Mcmanaman, ex-Wigan winger and executioner is also injured. He was the young player a few years ago whose tackle on Haidara was so bad that it prompted a rule change, I mean you know it’s a bad tackle when they change the rules because they can’t throw the book at you. Bizarre really, in hindsight I bet Mcmanaman wishes he hadn’t done it. He’ll know now that he only had to look at Haidara to get him stretchered off.

Ex-Mackem Sessegnon will be here, as will Victor Anichebe who has always blamed the club and fans because Kevin Nolan broke his leg in 2009 and so will chief numpty Craig Gardner. It’s not just on the pitch that Gardner rubs people up the wrong way, since moving to picturesque Warwickshire village Fillongley, the neighbours have accused Gardner of “destroying their privacy” by cutting down 40 foot trees around his property. An anonymous neighbour said:

“While project managing the building of his luxury house in Fillongley, Mr Gardner has caused devastation by ripping out 40-foot trees that has caused outrage from local neighbours and destroyed their privacy.”

Honestly, you take the man out of Sunderland but you can’t take the Sunderland out of him. Still, they should cut him a little bit of slack, he’s not a real Gardner, just like he’s not a real footballer.

A Special Mention For:  

Saido Berahino, 25 million quid for an overweight reserve who can’t get a game and has fallen out with the club, honestly how stupid do Albion think we are? We never go over £12.5million for those sorts of players, they know that.

newcastle v west brom

‘£25million. You’re having a laugh.’

Are We Going To Win?

Well we have to really, it’s as simple as that. Tony Pulis was almost apologetic in his pre-match conference, getting his excuses in already:

“To lose Chris [Brunt] and then Jonny [Evans] as well, leaves us a little bit bare but you get these spells. We’re disappointed we’re missing three or four of our best players but we’ll go there and we’ll give it our best shot.”

Aye best shot for a 0-0, while Steve McClaren moved away from his usual praise of our mis-firing players after Tuesday’s predictable implosion at Goodison Park:

“In the second half we had a go but it wasn’t enough. Too many players were below par. We can’t play like that in front of 52,000 fans on Saturday, we need a reaction, we have to do better than that.”

Indeed we do Steve, we have to win. The manager may believe that we won’t get relegated because we are “tremendous” but the reality is that if we don’t get 40 points it doesn’t matter how “hard they are trying”.

If we can’t win away then our home games become even more important and a home game against WBA is crucial, the Baggies are not yet out of the relegation mire and haven’t won in the league since the opening game of the new year.

Albion will come and spoil, kick and work hard, they’ll hope Rondon can show his class and they are always a threat from set pieces so we’ll need to defend well to a man, whoever those men may be. We should see plenty of the ball today, West Brom won’t want to keep it, so in midfield and up front we should have enough possession for any ability our big money signings have to come to the fore. It’s time for a few of them to stand up and be counted.

Fear the Tony Pulis Walking Dead? Not today. Howay The Lads.

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