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the baggies haven't looked particularly good since ryan shotton nicked a last minute winner for stoke city at the hawthorns a few weeks ago. in retrospect, that moment seems to have shaken the baggies' confidence, and they don't look at all the team that put in two really solid performances against manchester united and chelsea at the start off the season.
likewise - and up until the moment of that disastrous goal, the baggies had had the better of the match with their nemesis club from staffordshire, and would have won had it not been for the goalkeeping of asmir begovic in the city goal. the stoke city keeper was in superb form, making two hugely important saves and solely deserving of the credit for the clean sheet which gave his team the opportunity to go on and snatch the late win in a match that had "0-0" written all over it.
the following two games - an ugly win at norwich city and a shameful 3-0 loss away to swansea - were particluarly undistinguished performances that left some pundits and supporters reaching for the panic button. the mainstream news media played on the hype that the albion had made its "worst ever" start to a premier league season (all six of them); the TV and radio pundits started to suggest that perhaps roy hodgson had "lost the plot"; while the gaffer's preference for a 4-4-2 attacking formation came under huge criticism in the online fan forums.
the team then gave a good away performance against everton in the league cup, only to see their efforts go to waste in a losing cause. with a 1-0 lead through a chris brunt penalty kick in the second-half, the albion again conceded a late goal - in the 88th minute - to everton defender, marouane fellaini, and forced the game into extra-time.
Everton F.C. 2-1 WBA
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from there - and much like their FA cup adventure against reading two seasons ago - the initiative had swung the way of the mersey-siders and toffees' captain, phil neville, scored the winner with 18 minutes of extra-time left. it was a scenario which should be all too familiar to any long-time albion supporter.
the gaffer admitted in the post match press conference that he had "experimented" with the team formation in the cup-tie at goodison park. no doubt, this was influenced as much by what was being written in the online supporters forums as anything else. these internet forums have, of course, been the main source of criticism of the tactical switch from last year's 4-5-1 system, as opposed to the 2 striker system that the gaffer has implemented this year.
based on what he saw of his squad in the cup game, hodgson took the idea a step further in the home fixture with fulham. he implemented a flexible 4-3-3 which had shane long leading the line, peter odemwingie in a wide position on the right-wing and jerome thomas on the left-wing. chris brunt, graham dorrans and somen tchoyi covered the midfield and joe mattock returned to the starting line-up at left-back after having had a strong run in the reserves. baggies new-comer billy jones was deployed at right-back, while gareth mcauley - who had impressed in his two previous performances - was again assigned to partner jonas olsson at centre-half.
while the mainstream media has put an ever increasing pressure on the game over the last 3 decades or so, it is the online forums and so-called "social media" that have cranked up the heat in the last few years. it is hard to imagine somehow that some crank of an unemployed ditch-digger from dudley can now have profound affect on decisions taken by a man who has master-minded world cup upsets and taken top continental sides (as well as over-achieving underdogs) to both UEFA and europa league finals. but then, a good performer knowing what his audience wants will more often than not try and give it to them.
however, part of the problem with listening to the voice of inspired, rambling amateurs is that they haven't always got the focus right. the biggest talking point among baggies fans this last few weeks has been the question of 4-5-1 versus 4-4-2. the subject has been talked to the point of distraction in endless post on sites like westbrom.com. while the last few games have seen a west brom that has sacrificed some of their creativity in the mid-field - a quality the club is known for - and is primarily looking to keep things tight at the back and breaking on the counter attack, relying on the strikers to produce goals - the baggies have looked defensively more sound than they have in quite a while, and with two clean-sheets in the first six games they have already equalled their season's total of last year.
what the supporter/pundits have to remember is that it wasn't the formation that needlessly brought down swansea midfielder, joe allen, in the penalty area, giving swans their first goal and setting the tempo for a truly rotten performance. nor was it the formation that didn't come to collect a ball bouncing into his area, giving ryan shotten an open goal in which to score a last minute winner. neither did the formation needlessly lose the ball or give away free-kicks in dangerous areas. for the most part, the baggies' downfall thus far has been technical errors entirely creditable to individual players.
so, after a first half where it looked like the worst was coming true and memories of the ill-fated 2008-09 campaign started to flash through my head, the gaffer decided enough was enough and abandoned his bodged around 4-3-3 formation, moved odemwingie back in to a central position and the baggies looked far the better side in the second-half.
although the points total is still disappointing, a clean-sheet and chris brunt hitting the post four seconds into injury time was almost enough to make you think things are going to be OK.
when johnny giles took over as the club's first player-manager in 1975, the baggies were in the 2nd division and didn't get a result for the first 10 games. giles couldn't settle on a team - let alone tactic and formation - and by his own admission wasn't playing well himself. the baggies were promoted that year, and secured it with a famous victory on a second-half goal scored by tony brown away to oldham athletic on the last day of the season.
the baggies went in to the first division and finished 7th. johnny giles had laid the groundwork for the development of what would become one of the best sides in english football of the late 1970s under the leadership of ron atkinson. sometimes a bad start is just a bad start. this should be a good enough team to get over it and they have a gaffer who knows how to lead the way.
however, i fear that the opening two losses were much more detrimental to team confidence than any of us might have imagined they could have been. in these two games, the baggies had seen how good they are and know how well they should be playing, and at the minute everyone's trying too hard. odemwingie is looking too hard for the goal. paul scharner is making rash, over-active defensive decisions. brunt is too often searching in vain for the killer pass to put someone through on goal. graham dorrans doesn't seem to know where he fits in and nothing is really clicking yet with the possible exception of new boys shane long and gareth mcauley.
right now, they just have to learn to relax and play a more complete style of football within the parameters that hodgson has set. creatively, they might need to change it up a little bit sometimes. while the long ball tactic they've adopted has worked up to a point, they also need to play through the midfield and make use of the considerable individual talents there.
if the strikers aren't scoring, look to set up chances for the other natural goal scorers in the side - namely chris brunt and graham dorrans. let's have nickey shorey taking a free-kick once in a while. he's got a good shot over a dead-ball and is more than capable of delivering a long range scorcher from the set-piece. if odemwingie is looking stiff, put somen tchoyi on as a striker - and let's maybe see simon cox have a run in the team. in short, the club need to be just a little bit more fearless and show more of a sense of their natural creativity, resource and adventure... and for god's sake - they need to RELAX!!!