Same old problems for West Brom
West Brom managed to grab a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with relegation rivals Fulham, but it simply wasn't good enough for The Baggies as they put in the type of performance that has been seen far too often this season.
It was the fourth consecutive home 1-1 draw under Pepe Mel, but unlike the previous three games, this was seen as two points dropped rather than one point gained. It's all well and good producing spirited, battling displays against sides at the top of the table, but they count for nothing if you then fail to turn up in games against sides in and around you – in which winning the game not only helps your cause but also hinders the opposition.
- Report: West Brom 1-1 Fulham
West Brom needed to start quickly up against a team who are in nearly as bad a form as Albion. Instead, they allowed Fulham to impose themselves on the game straight away; making sure the game was played how Fulham wanted it to be, despite being the away side. This is a problem that has plagued West Brom for most of the season: it takes them far too long to get going and that hasn't changed under Mel. In all four of his home games, West Brom have gone 1-0 down in the first half and have only really started to play and apply any kind of pressure in the second half. It's hard enough trying to win games in the Premier League over 90 minutes, trying to do it in only 45 minutes is nearly impossible which is perhaps an explanation for why West Brom have won only four league games all season.
Mel has encouraged Albion to press higher up the pitch, but there was very little of that happening in a first half where Fulham could have been out of sight. Their defence was allowed plenty of time on the ball, despite looking unsure of themselves while in midfield -- Lewis Holtby was pretty much given free rein to go wherever he liked. It was only down to a combination of poor finishing and good goal-keeping from Ben Foster that Albion were still in the game at half time.
The absence of Claudio Yacob through injury was certainly a blow, as he has become crucial to Albion's defensive and offensive play under Mel. Yacob would have been the man give the responsibility of dealing with Holtby, who constantly found space in the places where Yacob usually positions himself. Yacob is also the player who seems to start off most of West Brom's attacking play by taking the ball from the defence or goal-keeper and initiating attacks. With him absent, the defenders seemed to resort to smashing the ball forward which is no good with the likes of Thievy Bifouma and Saido Berahino up front. They need the ball into their feet or in behind the defence, not in the air against a giant like Brede Hangeland.
It was only once Victor Anichebe came off the bench that Albion had any kind of attacking threat. He gave West Brom a focal point to their attacks and caused Fulham's defenders more problems than Thievy and Berahino combined. Mel has to take some plaudits for bringing Anichebe on for Billy Jones when there were more defensive options available to him. But the question has to be asked: why wasn't the Nigerian starting the game? There is a school of thought that he is better coming off the bench, but Albion don't have the luxury of being able to find that out. He simply has to start as he is the best option available.
He will never be a prolific goal-scorer but his hold-up play is absolutely vital to West Brom keeping possession of the ball and building their attacks. Thievy, Berahino and Saturday's goal-scorer, Matej Vydra, are all quick, lively players but they are also inexperienced, young and small in stature. They don't have the qualities to bring the midfield and others into play like Anichebe does. In fact they are all better playing off Anichebe rather than being the player who leads the line themselves.
The problem that Mel faces is trying to find a formation and combination of players that can play the way he wants. It's the problem he faced when he first arrived and it's the same problem that Steve Clarke had. Part of the problem lies with the fact that none of the strikers' goal records scream "pick me!" No-one is playing well enough to then make it impossible for them to be dropped. That means Mel is having to try different combinations and formations, when having a settled side would be far more beneficial. In fact, the same could be said for most of the team. There are very few players who can truly say they are performing to the best of their abilities at the moment: Chris Brunt, Yacob and Ben Foster are probably the only exceptions to that at the moment, although Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson did look to be back to their best on Saturday.
Albion were lucky this weekend that a lot of results still went in their favour, but you can only rely on other teams for so long. Mel needs to get his first win on the board, and quickly.