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Aug 10, 2014

WBA struggling up front, at the back

With new manager Alan Irvine at the helm, West Brom will hope for a less turbulent 2014-15 campaign.

It is often said you shouldn't read too much into preseason. Last preseason West Brom were scoring goals for fun, Markus Rosenberg was looking like a good player and Nicolas Anelka seemed a class above anything West Brom fans had seen in quite some time. Look at how the season actually played out: The Baggies struggled for goals, Rosenberg was shipped out on a free transfer and Anelka scored two goals before getting sacked.

Having said that, there have certainly been some worrying elements to West Brom's preseason campaign under new manager Alan Irvine. It started off fairly well, with a few wins against lower-league opposition and then two wins in a row over Sacramento Republic on the preseason tour of the U.S.

Since returning from that tour, performances have really dropped, with Albion losing to Nottingham Forest, Port Vale and Porto. Porto are an excellent side -- even if Albion had performed to their full potential they'd have probably struggled to get the win -- but the fact that they didn't perform at all was most worrying. It was the same story against Forest, although the Baggies did perform slightly better against Port Vale with a few younger players in the starting lineup.

Throughout preseason, though, some worrying trends have emerged.

Poor defending

This was something that plagued West Brom last season, and it seems that despite a complete overhaul of defensive personnel, Irvine hasn't been able to solve the issue. Far too often in preseason a man has been left unmarked in the box, beaten too easily by someone running at them or outmuscled.

The defending from set pieces, in particular, has been a worry, Albion have a good-sized defence with both full-backs capable of playing in the middle, yet they've still struggled to win headers and mark their man. There have also been a few ridiculous moments, none more so than Craig Dawson's own goal against Port Vale.

Perhaps a part of the issue is that Albion haven't been able to pick what would be considered a first-choice defence. They've been able to field parts of an ideal back line, but with the continued absence of Gareth McAuley and Joleon Lescott through injury and Cristian Gamboa's work-permit issues, Irvine has been left to mix and match with the options he has left in the squad.

New signings not playing

West Brom have made eight summer signings, but only five of them have actually played any part in preseason, which has to be a worry for Irvine. It was seen at the start of last season how Sunderland, and to a lesser extent Tottenham, struggled to jell due to a large number of signings. Irvine would have been hoping he could have fielded all of his signings at some point in preseason so he could create some partnerships, get some understanding in the defensive unit and find out what his best side is.

- Chris Brunt signs new WBA contract
- West Brom sign Gamboa, Davidson

As it is, Irvine is going to have to learn on the job what his best side is. Lescott was one of those five summer signings to have played a part in preseason, but he only managed half an hour against Nottingham Forest before having to go off injured. Gamboa's, Australian international Jason Davidson's and record signing Brown Ideye's first appearances in a West Brom shirt will come in the Premier League season.

The biggest worry out of those three will be Ideye. He comes to Albion with a 10 million-pound price tag and with the fans expecting him to carry the goal-scoring burden. Having a preseason would have enabled him to get used to the style of play Irvine wants to employ, build a relationship with any potential strike partner and even grab a goal in West Brom colours just to get a bit of confidence. Now he is going to have to come in and hit the ground running, much like Irvine will have to.

Lack of attacking threat

Ideye's absence is perhaps contributing to this, but West Brom seem to have struggled going forward. There seems to be a lack of pace to their attacks, they are bereft of creativity and goals are looking hard to come by for the other two strikers, Saido Berahino and Victor Anichebe.

Considering the defensive issues that have also plagued Irvine's side, it is not exactly encouraging for the season ahead. It has become abundantly clear that Albion are still very much lacking in the forward areas, they need at least one winger (preferably two) and another forward who will be able to share the goal-scoring responsibilities with Ideye.

These players need to be brought in as quickly as possible so Irvine can start to jell his squad, and find a formation and style that suits them for a favourable opening set of fixtures for the Scot in his first season at the Hawthorns.

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