Loss revives bad memories

Posted by Matthew Evans

Tony Marshall/Getty ImagesMoussa Sissoko's second half strike against West Brom made it four straight Premier League wins for Newcastle.

West Brom's second-half slumber from their derby game with Aston Villa extended itself to the 2-1 loss at Newcastle Saturday.

Apart from a 10-minute spell at the beginning of the second half, when the Baggies scored their equaliser, West Brom's play lacked pace, tempo and incision, much like the way they played in the second half against their local rivals. Far too often, West Brom's defence and midfield just pumped long balls forward for Shane Long.

While the Irishman was one of West Brom's more impressive players, winning plenty of the aerial battles he was forced into, it isn't the type of service that is going to create a lot of goal-scoring opportunities. His stunning first goal against Aston Villa came from a long pass that had direction, rather than just an aimless punt up the pitch.

When Albion got the ball down more at the start of the second half, they were far more effective.

It was no surprise that when the Baggies kept the ball on the floor in that 10-minute spell, players such as Stephane Sessengeon and Morgan Amalfitano had far more influence. I'm also certain that Long would far prefer Albion playing like that, getting in wide positions before providing quality balls into the box rather than having to make something out of nothing.

Albion's equaliser came from a bit of neat combination play between Sessengeon and Amalfitano on the right. Long could only get a glancing header on the Frenchman's cross, but the ball fell to Chris Brunt who smashed home a stunning left-footed strike. That is the type of quality Brunt possesses in his left foot, I don't think anyone else in West Brom's squad could have finished that chance.

That is one of the most frustrating things about Albion's captain -- he really should score more goals, with the strike against Newcastle being his first since January. The Northern Irishman was West Brom's top scorer in his first season at this level with eight goals. While no one expects him to reach Frank Lampard levels of goal-scoring from midfield, he is certainly capable of scoring more than the two goals he had last season.

It was a display reminiscent of the ones seen at the same stage of last season, when the Baggies outstanding early-season form took a nosedive, which will be worrying for all Albion fans. The same thing has happened at this stage of the season since West Brom returned to the top flight under Roberto Di Matteo. The results under the Italian ultimately led to his sacking and, despite his outstanding spell at the Hawthorns, Roy Hodgson also couldn't turn around the Baggies' winter misfortunes.

Steve Clarke also couldn't deal with The Baggies winter blues last season, although he was the unluckiest of all three managers in terms of the injuries he had to contend with. I am hopeful that the same won't be seen this season, particularly as after Wednesday's game with Manchester City, West Brom have games against Hull, Cardiff and Norwich, all of which would be considered winnable.

Another plus point for Clarke is that unlike last year, he has players returning from injury just in time for the busy festive period. Ben Foster and Scott Sinclair have both recently returned to training following prolonged spells on the sidelines. Billy Jones returned against Newcastle after three weeks out, with an even greater sight being the return of Zoltan Gera after 10 months out with a knee ligament injury.

West Brom have their biggest and most talented squad in years, one that should be more than capable of dealing with the demands that the fixture list throws at them.

The return of Gera offers Clarke yet another option in the final third, which is perhaps turning into a bit of a troublesome issue for the Scot, as he's so far been unable to find what would be considered a first-choice forward player combination. I believe that Clarke's first choice front line would be Nicolas Anelka up front, Sessengeon playing in the hole with Amalfitano and Scott Sinclair in the wide positions.

Injury to Sinclair has meant that both Saido Berahino and Brunt have had opportunities to play that position, and both have made good contributions in the absence of the on loan Manchester City man. Gera was also used primarily from the left last season and he offers another different set of talents, with the ability to unlock defences with a pass or piece of skill.

If Clarke can find a combination of forward players who produce incisive, attacking football, West Brom should be able to start turning draws into victories and, for once, enjoy a prosperous winter.


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