Just seven wins in 34

21 December ~ The indignant reaction to West Brom’s decision to sack manager Steve Clarke echoed that which greeted the enforced departure of Nigel Adkins from Southampton last season. Like Adkins, Clarke is a decent, dignified man. He had also brought recent success to the club, taking Albion to their highest ever finish in the Premiership of eighth last season. Perhaps it was the timing of Clarke’s removal, coming hours after he’d given a haunted-looking interview to the BBC following Albion’s 1-0 loss to Cardiff – their fourth in a row.

But the opprobrium piled on West Brom’s chairman, Jeremy Peace – a man perceived to be so pitiless by even the club’s supporters they refer to him as Dr Evil – ignored how poor results had been under Clarke.

Applying the logic of a dog chasing its tail, the habitually ill-informed Mark Lawrenson suggested that West Brom could have won four of their next six games with Clarke at the helm. Some feat, since he’d led them to just seven wins in their last 34 league matches. He began well, taking his first managerial post when succeeding Roy Hodgson at the start of last season. A cavalier 4-2 victory at Sunderland on 24 November 2012 lifted Albion to third in the table. But West Brom’s form in the second half of the season was wretched and that trend carried on into this campaign.

With justification, Clarke could point to issues beyond his control. The errant Peter Odemwingie’s farcical transfer saga doubtless split the dressing room. As Head Coach in Albion’s management structure, this season he also found himself working alongside a new Sporting & Technical Director, Richard Garlick, who replaced the FA-bound and well-regarded Dan Ashworth. That change seemed to render Albion inert in the transfer market for much of the summer.

But Clarke effectively sealed his own fate when publically urging Peace to splash out. The chairman subsequently gave up over £12m to buy Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe, neither of whom did a job for Clarke. The third striker he campaigned to bring in, Nicolas Anelka, has been at best a peripheral figure.

Thereafter, Clarke seemed uncertain of his best starting 11, chopping and changing the side as if at random. The team won well at Old Trafford in September, but more often played as though fearful of losing. It was one of just three victories so far this season. There should have been another at Chelsea, but for a risible penalty award from referee Andre Marriner. That game was Clarke’s defining point and he visibly wilted after it. He will bemoan his luck, but then the best managers are also the luckiest.

Since the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton, the fate of Nigel Adkins has been all but forgotten. And Jeremy Peace will ultimately be judged based on the man he chooses to be the next West Brom manager. Paul Rees

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