Monday 2 March ~
Sunday May 15, 2005 – West Bromwich Albion defied the odds by starting the last day of the Premier League season bottom of the table and staying up after goals from Geoff Horsfield and Kieran Richardson against Portsmouth saw them leapfrog to survival over rivals Crystal Palace, Norwich and Southampton. In doing so they also became the first and still only club to be bottom of the Premier League at Christmas and stay up. This season, however, with just one point in five games and having been knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship side Burnley, West Brom have endured a miserable start to 2009.
Blackburn's 2-1 victory at Hull yesterday, coupled with Middlesbrough's victory over Liverpool and Stoke's late rally to earn a point at Villa Park means the Baggies have slipped four points behind their nearest relegation rivals. After promotion as Championship winners last year, West Brom have played stylish football under the guidance of Tony Mowbray and the manager insists he will continue to instruct his players to play this way, even if his side end up back in the Championship. "Some people judge you on results, I judge teams on the way they play." "I've been asked if we are up for the fight," Mowbray added after Saturday's 2-0 defeat away to Everton. "But you will never see a scraping, spitting, fighting, muscular team from me. You will see a team that passes and moves."
Compared to last season's relegated clubs, West Brom have a much better completed pass average per League game with an average of 381 successful passes in their 27 League games so far. Further delving into the Opta database reveals that Derby had an average of 309 successful passes when finishing bottom of the table last year, while Birmingham City and Reading dropped to the Championship with averages of 280 and 275 completed passes respectively. This shows that Tony Mowbray's men clearly retain the ball well and maintain regular possession successfully. It doesn't hide the fact, however, that West Brom have scored on just 24 occasions in 27 League games, a record better only than fellow strugglers goal-shy Middlesbrough who have managed just 20 goals. Defensively, West Brom have the worst record in the Premier League, shipping 51 goals in 27 games, a combination that has seen them slip to the bottom of the table.
The Baggies’ slide has worsened as their rivals continue to improve. Since he took over at Ewood Park in December, Sam Allardyce's Blackburn have lost just twice in nine League games, picking up 13 points and they were unfortunate not to take something away from runaway leaders Manchester United last weekend. After 15 games winless games, Middlesbrough's unexpected victory on Saturday hauled them back on level terms with Blackburn and Stoke. Tony Pulis's side, still without an away win, have at least taken points at Champions League hopefuls Liverpool and Aston Villa. They were also cruelly defeated 2-1 by Chelsea in January having been ahead going into the final three minutes. With an impressive record at the Britannia Stadium bringing six wins and 22 points, the Potters have proven very difficult to beat at home and with the visits of Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Blackburn to come face three relegation-threatened rivals in their run-in.
Mowbray has already stressed the importance of making The Hawthorns "a fortress". With an away record of just one point from the last available 33, home games will prove crucial in the final months of the season. Tomorrow night they take on an Arsenal side who are stuttering in front of goal, after four consecutive blanks in the League, despite creating numerous opportunities in each game. After Chelsea's 3-0 win at West Brom in November, the Baggies enjoyed a purple patch home, picking up ten points in four games, including potentially vital late wins over Sunderland and Tottenham, and a similar run will surely be required. After the visit of Arsenal, West Brom welcome Bolton, before a huge game against Stoke on April 4. If they are to complete another miracle escape they will need to be close going into the final weekend, a trip to Ewood Park and 17th-placed Blackburn. In order to do that they need to start picking up points... and fast. Chris Hill