Written by David Robinson
Last Sunday saw West Bromwich Albion host Middlesbrough live on Sky Sports. The selection of the game was a puzzling one to say the least, two sides that keep it tight and do not exactly go all out in attack. The match delivered to its expectations. It was pretty horrific viewing as neither side showed any quality but also any ambition to come out of their shell. With the Baggies at home you had to feel for the supporters who are now accustomed to this type of display. However, do you? West Brom have picked up four points from their opening three games, a decent return. Tony Pulis made them comfortably safe last season despite in my opinion possessing one of the weakest squads in the league, no better than Newcastle’s or Norwich’s I believe. So again plaudits have to go to Tony Pulis for delivering results, that is not in question but is it admirable or simply just plain boring?
Pulis’s record speaks for itself, he hasn’t really put a foot wrong for Stoke, Crystal Palace and West Brom in terms of results. He simply doesn’t put a club in danger. With West Brom he has built a side that is combative and really quite effective. Playing centre backs as full backs is one of the tactics he has used which means that physically you will not get the better of them. The whole structure forces sides to be smart against them, if the opposition become frustrated and go direct the chances are they will be unsuccessful. They are are hard nut to crack shown by an impressive record against the top sides last season.
Creating a shape that is simple yet so effective is quite impressive from a tactical point of view, a side that was comfortably safe featuring the likes of James McClean all season deserves credit in itself. Doing the basics right is essential and not always achieved by all sides across the whole season, West Brom do this very well and playing to set pieces and percentage balls is certainly a tactic that you shouldn’t be ashamed of if that’s what suits the set of players the most.
If West Brom were to play attractive football and try and go head to head with heavier spenders and more talented squads they would ultimately lose and struggle therefore it is surely only logical to develop a system that is smart and works to the clubs favour. This is what Pulis is so good at, games can be won in any fashion so executing this strategy is really a talent. Building a powerful unit full of players that work hard and fight for the cause can get the better of the clubs who lack structure and the same belief. Leaving Saido Berahino out repeatedly is an example of what Pulis stands for and while he could be accused of being stubborn it demonstrates the emphasis on the team over everything, a great stance to have. In the modern day when money is spent heavily by many at the top, methods such as this have to be credited for making matches very difficult for the heavyweights of the league with many getting knocked back by West Brom as a result.
credit Elliott Brown
Football is a results business but sometimes as fans winning isn’t everything. Fans all across the country have seen countless wins and losses and sometimes walking away with a defeat but a good game can be satisfying enough for some. I personally could not tolerate watching Pulis’s style of football for a long time, this is probably now the case for a number of West Brom fans. The match on Sunday was unrecognisable as a Premier League game, a league often so hyped up to be one of the most exciting and entertaining leagues, the Hawthorns witnessed such a dull game of football.
It comes to a point where you have to question would you rather your club go down by playing a more attractive style than staying up playing in this way? The Championship itself is no punishment from a spectators point of view, with interesting and intense matches every week, regularly three times a week.
Therefore a change in style under a new manager could have reward for the supporters although certainly a big risk as Pulis effectively guarantees survival in the top tier. Punting the ball up the field is not a great spectacle for fans especially if it’s repetitive and without very good results. Fans want to see a degree of flair, hard work is great but players that get you off your feet are what you want to see from time to time. With West Brom there is a clear defensive strategy in every part of the pitch meaning the shackles do not come off and this only creates a more cagey and dull affair. Something that really is boring to watch over the course of the season whether it gets results or not.
Having looked at both sides of the coin, I think Pulis’s style is just boring. The match on Sunday was horrendous to watch as a neutral but even for the home supporters it’s tedious and that’s when you know it’s bad when seemingly the side settles for a dull 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough. From a professional point of view the former Stoke and Crystal Palace boss is fantastic, he really does do his job of getting the best out of his sides but even that cannot be enough to satisfy fans who pay their money and travel the lengths of the country to be bored watching their side. A short term fix of better defending and being hard to beat can certainly be admired but in the long run, no one wants to be uninterested going to their own stadium.
West Brom fans, you see your side in action every week, what do you make of it under Pulis? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by dom fellowes