West Brom woefully short of creativity in disheartening loss to Newcaslte
Tony Pulis described West Brom's display in their 1-0 defeat to Newcastle at St James' Park as the "worst away performance" since he took over at the club. However, the reality is that these performances are now becoming the norm, rather than the exception to the rule.
For the third time in West Brom's past four fixtures, they failed to register a shot on target in the entire game and Pulis has to take a large portion of the blame for this. The side he picked against Newcastle had just one player, James McClean, with any pace or creativity, but even he is appreciated by Pulis as much for his defensive contribution as what he adds going forward.
Pulis' side had three central midfielders more used to screening the defence than creating chances. Darren Fletcher is certainly capable going forward, but he is more about making late runs into the box and driving from deep rather than playing intricate passes in the No. 10 position where he was played.
Craig Gardner showed against Chelsea that he can be a goal-scoring threat from the middle of the park, but he was instead used out wide against Newcastle, a role that he simply doesn't suit. With Stephane Sessegnon nursing an injury, Pulis could have played a natural wide player like Alex Pritchard in that role and taken the game to Newcastle rather than simply trying to contain a side low on confidence.
While West Brom had a depleted defence, with Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt out injured, this is no excuse for the way they played. There was little attacking intent and their passing was shocking, allowing a Newcastle side with a similarly depleted defence the chance to assert themselves on the game from the opening whistle.
This was a real opportunity for West Brom to put some distance between themselves and the relegation zone, but instead Pulis' negative tactics looked to have dragged them further into the mix than ever.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Ben Foster, 7 -- Kept West Brom in the game with a series of saves, including one top-class stop from a close-range Aleksandar Mitrovic effort.
DF James Chester, 5 -- Used out of position once again and struggled whenever someone ran at him. Did surprisingly well in the physical battles.
DF Gareth McAuley, 5 -- A rare off day for the Northern Ireland international, caught out of position for Newcastle's winner. Pulis will hope his injury isn't too serious.
DF Jonas Olsson, 6 -- Handled Mitrovic well throughout, while his distribution was improved on recent weeks.
DF Craig Dawson, 5 -- Played Mitrovic onside by failing to keep the defensive line, generally looked uncomfortable out of position at left-back. Far more assured in his regular right-back role in the second half.
MF Craig Gardner, 5 -- Was the midfielder who supported Victor Anichebe the most, but did little with the very limited service he received. Wasted a free kick in a good position. Simply not suited to playing as a winger.
MF Claudio Yacob, 6 -- The best of West Brom's central midfield trio. Broke up play, defended well when Newcastle counter-attacked. Decent if unspectacular with the ball at his feet.
MF Sandro, 4 -- After a decent-enough debut against Swansea, Sandro was anonymous as he was overpowered in the middle of the park. Rightly subbed at half-time.
MF Darren Fletcher, 5 -- Another player not suited to the role he was given. Couldn't get near enough to Jonjo Shelvey in the first half. Improved when returned to his regular position alongside Yacob.
MF James McClean, 6 -- Worked tirelessly to support Dawson defensively, not given many opportunities going forward. Put a couple of decent deliveries into the box.
FW Victor Anichebe, 4 -- Was West Brom's man of the match in the reverse fixture, but couldn't repeat that performance. Had little service, but failed to hold the ball up when he did receive an accurate pass.
MF Alex Pritchard, 7 -- A promising, energetic display from the Spurs loanee. Confident in possession and could provide the creativity West Brom are currently missing.
FW Saido Berahino, 6 -- While he didn't do anything outstanding, West Brom simply look far more threatening with him in the side. Came deep and linked play well.
FW Salomon Rondon, 5 -- Despite his midweek goal, clearly short on confidence. Should have set Berahino up late on but final ball let him down.
Matthew Evans is ESPN FC's West Brom blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @MattEvansWBA.