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Mar 23, 2014

Long returns to haunt West Brom


It was inevitable really, wasn't it? West Brom manager Pepe Mel says that prior to the game with Hull that he'd have liked to have kept striker Shane Long, but the deal was already agreed to by the time he arrived. Of course, Long was the centre of attention and a goal-scorer for Hull as they defeated West Brom 2-0. - Report: Hull City 2-0 West Brom It was the curse of the ex-player striking once again. Sometimes you see ex-players return to their old clubs and have shockers, but such is the way Albion's season is going that you just knew that wouldn't happen with Long. It was also befitting of West Brom's season that the game changed on a controversial penalty given to Hull after a "foul" on Long, who to add insult to injury, scored Hull's second. There is no way that West Brom can blame poor decisions from officials for their shocking season; there are plenty of other reasons which I'll go into later, but it can't be denied that The Baggies have had some shockers go against them this season. Referee Chris Foy has already awarded one controversial penalty against Albion in Mel's reign: Ben Foster being the unlucky party as he was penalised despite taking the ball from Marouane Chamakh at Crystal Palace. But this decision was even worse. Long was going away from the box with Craig Dawson marking him closely when Long fell to the ground. I'm not sure whether it could be described as a dive; it seemed like he fell over the ball or his own feet, although on Twitter he claimed that he was clipped. But he didn't even appeal for a penalty. Both he and Dawson played on until they realised Foy was pointing to the spot. Without a doubt it changed the flow of the game, as Albion were the better side up to that point. Rightly or wrongly, that decision just seemed to take the wind out of them and they struggled throughout the rest of the game. What made the decision even more galling was that there was a similar incident in the second half in near-enough the exact same spot on the pitch where James Morrison was, to borrow Long's phrase, "clipped" by Jake Livermore only for Foy to wave play on. All that's being asked for is consistency. If Foy deemed that Dawson fouled Long, then the tackle by Livermore also has to be a foul. When Long was sold by West Brom, particularly to a side near them in the table, a lot of questions were asked of this decision. I still believe that it was the right decision to sell Long, even after his goal on Saturday raised a lot of those questions once again. It was clear that there were issues between Long and the club, and that they were affecting his performances on the pitch. He only actually scored three goals for West Brom this season, with two of those coming in one game. To put that into context, Victor Anichebe has the same amount as that while Saido Berahino has one more. To get seven million pounds for someone who had six months left to run on his deal, albeit with an option in the club's favour, and who had scored only three goals, it made sense. The issue is that West Brom didn't use that money to replace Long, instead choosing to lock it away. That was just horrendous decision-making on Albion's part, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding striker Nicolas Anelka which has of course now ended with him leaving the club. The Baggies are now left with Anichebe, Berahino, Matej Vydra and Thievy Bifouma as the forward options charged with getting the goals they need to stay up. All four are talented players but they certainly can't be described as proven Premier League performers and none of them have ever really been a first choice forward at a Premier League club. Anichebe is a big, strong presence but has a poor goal-scoring record. Berahino is in his first full season as a professional and looks to be struggling with the pressure. Vydra looks like a goal-scorer but struggles with the physicality while Thievy is full of tricks and flicks but again doesn't have great goal-scoring record. To go into the business end of the season with these four players as your strikers is just criminal, but nothing less should be expected after the general poor nature of Albion's transfer activity since last summer. It was clear for all to see that West Brom needed two new full-backs last summer, one on each side. What did they do? Give Steven Reid another year's contract and renew Goran Popov's loan, despite former manager Steve Clarke evidently not rating him. Popov is so poor that despite Albion's squad being ravaged with injuries, Mel would prefer to put two young defenders on the bench instead of him. It wasn't just that or not replacing Long, West Brom have also failed to replace both Peter Odemwingie and Romelu Lukaku. These are players who both scored 15 goals or more in a season for Albion, but West Brom attempted to replace them with frees and loans. When they realised this wouldn't work, they panic bought, bringing in Anichebe and Stephane Sessegnon. If you added together their best goal-scoring seasons in the league, it would be a total of 14 goals. That is a very simplistic way of looking at it, but those two were never going to be adequate replacements for Lukaku and Odemwingie. Mel has been dealt his hand for the rest of the season, but even now, cards seem to be getting taken away from him with a mounting injury list that added two more names to it against Hull, with Gareth McAuley and Anichebe both having to be substituted. Albion could end up with only one fit centre-half for their crucial game next weekend with Cardiff, yet another nightmare situation for Mel who must be beginning to wonder if anything will ever go right for him.