West Brom's 3-0 defeat to Manchester United was demoralising, disappointing and has led to more questioning of Pepe Mel's appointment as Albion's head coach, with blame flying around in many different directions.
The first half performance against United was probably the best first half performance seen under Mel. West Brom did play well in the first half; Victor Anichebe and Zoltan Gera pressed high up the pitch and Albion had a fair share of the ball without ever really creating a clear cut chance. But it was the same old story as Albion went 1-0 down at home for the fifth consecutive league game as a result of poor defending from a set piece -- another recurring theme under Mel.
Another recurring theme of West Brom's season has been poor refereeing decisions and that didn't change in the defeat to United, although Albion can't really use the referee as an excuse in this game. Robin Van Persie really should have seen red with the game poised at 1-0, but referee Jonathan Moss didn't give him a second yellow. However, The Baggies didn't really look like scoring at any point in the game; even with 10 men you'd have backed United to see the game out. Additionally, Albion did benefit from a poor refereeing decision in the first half when Ben Foster seemed to handle the ball outside the area, which also would have resulted in a red card.
This result did seem to bring a lot of issues to the forefront, most of which revolve around Mel's appointment as West Brom's head coach. Ordinarily, losing to Manchester United would be viewed as disappointing but not unexpected. But because of Albion's precarious position in the league and their failure to secure wins against sides around them in the league, this match became a vital, pressurised game rather than one which could almost be considered a "bonus" match, where there was no pressure on the game.
Mel's appointment as head coach has not ushered in the changing of fortunes that Albion's board would have hoped for, and they must accept some form of responsibility for that. To want to have a complete change in style of play at this stage of the season was risky. Attempting to change it with a coach who has no experience in the league and doesn't speak English was incredibly risky. Expecting Mel to do that without bringing the coaching staff he wanted is bordering on the impossible.
There is no doubt in my mind that sacking Steve Clarke was the correct decision. He didn't look like turning around and seemed to have lost the plot in terms of team selection and substitutions. The issue is whether Mel was the right replacement. It's become pretty clear that the players aren't keen on the style of play he wants to introduce, with a higher defensive lining and pressing further up the pitch. This has placed Mel in a difficult position, which I believe was a contributing factor to the lacklustre performance that was seen on Saturday. Mel seemed to sacrifice some of his beliefs and style in an attempt to adapt or appease the players in his squad, but it had little effect on the way West Brom played. In fact, they were worse than in his previous four home games.
Newspaper reports in the previous couple of weeks suggest that Mel is really struggling to win over West Brom's squad, with many reports suggesting the players would have preferred Keith Downing and Dean Kiely to stay in charge until the end of the season. Downing didn't do too bad a job while he was in caretaker charge, and it's clear that the duo are popular among the players, hence why the board have kept them on coaching staff for so long. But it must also be remembered that Downing stated he didn't want the job on any kind of long-term basis, and that two of West Brom's worst performances this season came under the Downing/Kiely regime.
The games they were in charge saw a very similar style to that of Clarke, with Downing a bit more open to formation and personnel changes than his predecessor. The style of Clarke wasn't exactly successful, so why would it be any different under Downing and Kiely in the long term? The question must be asked if their presence is becoming a disruptive one, with the players wanting to play for those two with their style rather than under Mel and David Gomez.
In the end, the blame must ultimately lie with the players, with there being very few who can really say they are playing to the best of their abilities when they are needed most. Claudio Yacob, Anichebe and Chris Brunt are the only three who have performed at a consistently high level since Mel arrived at the club, with a few others putting in the odd good performance like Gera and Youssouf Mulumbu did against Manchester United. Far too many are simply coasting along, happy to let others take the responsibility or are simply not good enough.
If the players have issues with Mel, that is their prerogative. But they should not take those issues onto the pitch; they should forget about the fact they perhaps aren't playing for their preferred choice of manage,r but they are playing for the safety of a club that means an awful lot to a lot of people. That is all they should be thinking about when they step onto the pitch: trying to keep West Brom in the Premier League for the fans.