Pressure beginning to build on Steve Clarke

Posted by Matthew Evans

Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty ImagesSteve Clarke's team have won only one of their last nine Premier League games.

Such is the nature of the Premier League beast, Steve Clarke is now under pressure whilst Chris Hughton, whose job seemed to be under threat before kickoff, has earned himself a stay of execution after his Norwich City side came away from the Hawthorns with a 2-0 win against West Brom.

- Davitt: Norwich re-discover the will to resist
- Hughton hails Canaries' response

This was The Baggies third defeat on the trot and it means they have won only one of their last nine Premier League games. Take a look at Clarke's record since the turn of the year and it’s surprising he hasn't been under pressure until now. In 2013, West Brom have managed only seven wins in 33 Premier League games. Because Albion still finished eighth last season, many people, including myself, over-looked this poor run of form and took solace from the fact West Brom still managed to finish best of the rest.

The irony is that Albion's performance against Norwich on Saturday was one of their better ones in that run. West Brom had 64 percent of the possession, had 10 corners and registered 27 shots on goal, with 12 of those on target. But as has been the problem for the majority of this season, they just could not convert these chances or find a telling final ball. Couple this with some poor defending and you have a recipe for disaster.

The worst culprit for missing chances was once again Stephane Sessegnon. The Benin international is a tremendously talented player, which is what makes his ability, or lack of it, in front of goal even more infuriating. Sessegnon's biggest chance highlighted the very best and very worst of him in one movement. Collecting the ball from deep, he drove at the Norwich defence and after a lucky ricochet, was through on goal. Inexplicably, he managed to miss what was pretty much an open goal.

That wasn't the only chance he squandered but it was definitely the easiest. Sessegnon’s wastefulness in front of goal has already cost West Brom points this season. He missed an open goal against Aston Villa that would have put The Baggies 3-0 up and taken the game away from their local rivals, whilst he also missed two gilt-edged chances against Stoke City.

He isn't the only one who was guilty of missing big chances. Victor Anichebe planted a free header straight into the hands of John Ruddy and Shane Long miscued a volley, the ball again going straight down Ruddy's throat. Long did force Ruddy into an excellent save, but that was one of few times when he was properly tested, despite all the pressure West Brom put Norwich under.

West Brom's two most impressive players were Youssouf Mulumbu and Billy Jones, but even they were guilty of wastefulness on occasions. Mulumbu had two difficult chances, but he would have hoped to have put one away. Jones was one of few Albion players who didn't have a clear-cut chance, his issue was finding a final ball. He got forward continually down the right, making tremendous runs but too often his pass didn't find an Albion man, or if it did, the player wasted the chance. Long, Sessegnon, Chris Brunt and Saido Berahino all providing poor crosses.

The one positive that Clarke can take is that at least Albion are creating chances to miss, but what will be worrying him is the defence. Under Clarke, and before him Roy Hodgson, West Brom have looked to build from a solid defensive platform. Recently, The Baggies look very shaky and are returning to the days experienced under Tony Mowbray and Roberto Di Matteo, where the team needed to score twice to get a draw.

It was far too easy for Norwich to score their first goal. A fairly simple move down the middle of the pitch, aided by a deflected through ball, suddenly saw Gary Hooper through on goal and he finished with the kind of accuracy Clarke would like from his forwards. A second goal was always a risk as Albion pushed more and more for a equaliser and it duly came, Diego Lugano being tricked far too easily by Leroy Fer, who then finished past Boaz Myhill.

Lugano was starting his first Premier League game in place of the suspended Jonas Olsson, but he did little to show that he should be starting on a regular basis, with one newspaper article claiming that Lugano wants to quit Albion because of his lack of first-team action. The biggest concern for Clarke, however, is the left-back position.

Liam Ridgewell had a very poor game, struggling to deal with Nathan Redmond for the entire first half, with Albion lucky that the winger couldn't find a decent final ball. Ridgewell was hauled off at half time, but instead of bringing on Goran Popov, who was on the bench, an already-booked Chris Brunt was put to left-back. This clearly shows that Clarke lacks any kind of confidence in either of the options available to him and the fact Brunt performed better than both Ridgewell and Popov must have been even more worrying.

In a previous blog, I stated that the next three games were crucial to Albion's season. One of those is now gone and these games are now not only crucial to the team, but they may well also determine how long Clarke remains West Brom head coach. If he takes six points from the next two games, any talk of his job being pressure will stop, at least for a little while. If they take no points from the next two fixtures, it won't be a merry Christmas for West Brom.


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