Pressure rising on Alan Irvine after Swansea defeat
It's been a rough week for already under-pressure West Brom manager Alan Irvine.
The club's 3-0 defeat to Swansea, after a poor performance midweek against Oxford, means the man in charge goes into the international break without a competitive win to his name. The murmurs of discontent are beginning to get louder among fans.
Albion have really struggled against Swansea in the Premier League, particularly away from home, with previous managers Roy Hodgson and Steve Clarke both failing to pick up any points (although one of Pepe Mel's three wins as West Brom coach came against the Swans). But none of the performances were as bad as the one Irvine's side put in Saturday.
It was the manner of the defeat that led to a lot of the criticism of Irvine. Simply put, it was pathetic. There was no attacking intent, no urgency to the play, no width. It was the kind of defensive, narrow football that got Irvine sacked at both of his previous clubs (Preston North End and Sheffield Wednesday).
West Brom fans could only look on enviously at the way Swansea played. Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge tore Andre Wisdom and Jason Davidson to shreds in the wide areas, hugging the touchline and playing with width. The Baggies didn't get near Gylfi Sigurdsson once, as he was allowed to run the game and provided Swansea with a creative output throughout.
Compare this to what West Brom had. Saido Berahino isn't a wide player, and while he worked hard, it's clear that he isn't as effective there as he is in a more advanced role. Graham Dorrans -- after a resurgence in form -- had probably his worst game in an Albion shirt while Chris Brunt wasn't much better on the left side, with his shocking pass leading to Swansea's second goal, not helped by a poor Craig Dawson clearance either.
That was just one of a number of defensive errors, which is what ultimately cost Albion the game. Jonas Olsson's slip inside 80 seconds allowed Dyer to get a goal that seemed to ruin whatever game plan Irvine had concocted. Olsson also hit his own bar with an attempted clearing header while Dyer's second and Swansea's third was the result of Davidson losing his man on the inside and allowing him a free run at goal.
Davidson didn't particularly impress on his full debut, looking shaky against Dyer all game, while Wisdom's struggles at right back continued. In the middle, the return to full fitness of Joleon Lescott and Gareth McAuley can't come soon enough.
- Report: Swansea 3-0 West Brom
Of course Irvine wasn't helped by the fact that the players brought in this summer to provide Albion's attacking threat weren't deemed fit enough to be a part of the squad or, in the case of latest signing Sebastian Blanco, arrived too late to be registered for the squad. That is not to say it's an excuse for the horrendous performance, but it is giving Irvine a bit of good grace with the fans who are willing to see what he can do with his full squad available.
However, this is what worries me. Irvine said the early goal ruined the game plan, which seemed to have been to defend and leave Brown Ideye to fend for himself up front. You would think that after conceding early that would have to change to provide Ideye with some more support and attack a little more, but West Brom simply continued to defend. It was damage limitation, which with all due respect you shouldn't be doing against Swansea -- a side that is in the same bracket of teams as Albion.
The likes of Silvestre Varela, Blanco and Georgios Samaras are potentially excellent additions to Albion's attacking options but only if they are played in a side given the freedom to attack and make the best use of their attributes. In his previous two jobs, and in the start to his West Brom career, it doesn't look as if Irvine is capable of putting out sides that play with width and attack in numbers. Ideye was poor Saturday, but he was on a hiding to nothing with the poor service and lack of support from midfield.
If Irvine wants his record signing to thrive, which West Brom need him to do, the coach needs to find a more attacking style and formation that allows him to fit Blanco, Varela and Stephane Sessegnon into the side. Persisting with the style of play seen at the Liberty Stadium would take the Baggies only one way, and that is down.
Matthew Evans is ESPN FC's West Brom blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @MattEvansWBA.