It was obvious what Ben Foster was trying to do when he came out after the loss to Sunderland on Wednesday and said, "We probably let the fans down, we were just going through the motions and there was no kind of fight there." It's unfortunate that the first part of that quote has been lost among the wave of criticism directed towards the second half of the quote.
- Report: Sunderland 2-0 West Brom
It is also unfortunate that it is Foster who came out and said this, as he's one of the few West Brom players from Wednesday night and throughout the season who can hold their head up high and say that he performed to a level near his best. We all want players to be more honest and open, but this was perhaps not the best way to attempt to appease nearly a thousand fans who travelled to Sunderland in midweek to watch Albion simply roll over and have their bellies tickled by the Mackems.
Of course Sunderland needed the result more than Albion, a win secured their Premier League safety after being bottom at Christmas, a feat achieved only once before -- ironically by West Brom in 2005. But that really is no excuse for the players going through the motions, as Foster put it.
There is still plenty to play for, even if Albion are safe. Surely they don't want to survive on goal difference? Where is the professional pride in that? For a club as obsessed with money as Albion, prize money for finishing higher up the table would have been on the board's mind. How about fighting for the job of their head coach who is supposedly under pressure? Or just doing it for the fans who have stuck by the players this season, when it would have been easy to turn on them, particularly with the stories that have emerged in the press this season.
These end of season results can also have an effect on your momentum going into the next season. Of course there were plenty of other reasons for West Brom's poor start to the season: mainly a lack of investment, but there did certainly seem to be a hangover from the previous season when Albion won a mere four games after January. This season you would have liked to think that the players would have wanted to change that, but obviously not.
Quite simply, there is no excuse for going through the motions, or if you were being harsh, a complete lack of effort. You could understand it if all of the players were off to the World Cup in the summer, but Foster is really the only one with that on his mind, and as I mentioned earlier, he is one of the few who can really say he's earned his money consistently this season.
You can't take away the fact that Sunderland played well in the first half, it's more that they were allowed to play and dictate the pace of the game. It seems that the pressing game that manager Pepe Mel was supposed to bring to the club has well and truly been forgotten, with Albion resorting to dull, dour, defensive football that doesn't really work.
The blame should not be put solely at the feet of the players. Mel has a lot of favour among the majority of West Brom fans, myself included, but he does seem to make odd selection decisions, none more so than putting Jonas Olsson and Youssouf Mulumbu on the bench. There's two games left of the season and as keeps being mentioned, they are safe, so what need is there to rest players, particularly key individuals like Olsson and Mulumbu?
It perhaps wouldn't have been so bad if the man who came into replace Mulumbu, Claudio Yacob, didn't have his worst game in an Albion shirt. When he first arrived at the club, the Argentinian moved the ball quickly, accurately and efficiently while also breaking up play constantly. He didn't do any of that against Sunderland. He gave the ball away constantly and was simply run over by Lee Cattemorle in the middle of the park.
It also made very little sense moving Saido Berahino from a central striking role to the right of midfield, in front of Steven Reid. Reid struggled in his whole time on the pitch, being hauled off at halftime by Mel, but to be fair to him, he wasn't helped by Berahino, who simply isn't used to the defensive work-rate required when playing on the right hand-side of midfield four, something he has never done before. It was no surprise that both of Sunderland's goals came from that side, with Reid struggling to deal with Fabio Borini.
It was once again a clear sign that Albion are in desperate need of a complete overhaul, which has to begin as soon as this season ends, a moment that can't come soon enough for the West Brom fans and seemingly, the West Brom players as well.