By Cai Davies
“The buck stops with me” were the words that Albion chairman Jeremy Peace used to kick off the transfer window this season. Last season was a farce from start to finish; from Nicolas Anelka’s role at the club, the unrest brought by handing a heightened role to director of technical performance Dave McDonough, to the hiring of Pepe Mel without the intention of fully supporting him. The Albion are lucky to still be playing a part in top flight football.
The disconnect between fans and the board was apparent upon entering this season, Albion needed leadership and direction. More importantly, the board needed to rekindle their relationship with the fans. Their disastrous handling of the Justice for Jeff campaign was what hurt most; a campaign run by the family of Baggies legend Jeff Astle to investigate how heading a football affects the brain – an element of the game that sadly took Jeff ‘The King’ Astle from us in 2002 due to chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
These elements, when put together, caused a huge unrest surrounding the Baggies faithful. When Jeremy Peace issued a statement on the official club website, to try and address the issues of unrest in the ranks I was sceptical. I now sit here, two games into the season with 10 players having left, 8 of those released or free transfers, 9 players brought in, including £10million+ record signing of Brown Ideye and free transfer of ex England international Joleon Lescott, it seems that my initial scepticism was unjust.
First game of the season, we hosted Sunderland, a team who share the mantle with West Brom as being the only two teams who have stayed up in the Premier League despite being bottom of the league at Xmas. Pulling off ‘The Great Escape’ last year, like Albion did in 2005 was miraculous and a credit to Gus Poyet for doing so.
Sunderland at home, considering their position last season, we would have hoped to get a win. Albion started the game well, only to have a wonder goal by Lee Catermole of all players rain on the start of their campaign. The build-up to the goal seemed all too familiar, a lazy approach to defending set pieces, a theme that was apparent throughout the game. Albion were gifted an easy route back into the game from an extremely soft penalty awarded to Victor Anichebe, which was slotted away by Saido Berahino, who looks invigorated since signing a new contract.
A disallowed goal each, and two more goals later set the final score at 2-2 – probably a fair result considering the soft penalty awarded to allow Albion back into the game.
Next up was Southampton away, a game that last season saw Pepe Mel watching from the stands in aviators, before joining the squad the following week for training. Now stood Alan Irvine, with his second attempt to gain his first 3 points as Baggies boss. An exciting first half showed two sides that play good football, passing the ball on the ground, keeping possession well on both teams behalf. Despite this, no real chances fell to either team until Ideye Brown came on for his debut.
One worry I have for this season is not having a goalscorer. Anichebe, for all his qualities doesn’t look like he could score enough to justify his role as the central striker at the club. Against Southampton, Albion only started to look inherently dangerous when Brown Ideye entered the frame, a signing who looks like it could be very successful if his short time on the pitch showed today reflects his continued progression.
A 0-0 draw is what Albion ended up with, again, a result that was probably fair, but could’ve easily been 3 points.
So far, Jeremy Peace’s statement of “the buck stops with me”, as well as the actions that have followed has proven to be a showing of leadership and direction brought by the Chairman.
There’s still work to do, having been pleasantly surprised by Irvine’s start to his tenure at the club, he needs to be backed further. Albion need another striker and width and have nine days to get those players in.
Over to you Jeremy Peace, I hope Albion finish the good work started in the overhaul of the squad. After all, the buck stops with you.