Written by Will Griffin.
The last six months as an Albion fan have not been enjoyable, to say the least.
Defeat after defeat interspersed with frantically impressive defensive performances against the Big 6 has been the tale of the Baggies first season back in the big time.
From the start of the season back in September, it seemed that Bilic’s chosen system was to play his way to safety: free-flowing football to match the free-flowing defense, with the latter about as structurally sound as a sand castle.
Albion did have flair in midfield, with the likes of Grady Diangana and Matheus Pereira signing permanently, whilst Chelsea academy graduate Conor Gallagher joined on loan, so Baggies fans were expecting see at the very least some attacking prowess, but following a 5-1 battering by Crystal Palace (with an admittedly very contentious Matheus Pereira red card) and a disappointing away loss to Newcastle, it was clear that not only was a heavily inexperienced defence a problem, so was the glaring lack of a proven out-and-out goalscorer leading the line.Embed from Getty Images
It was at this point that the board made the decision that has defined West Brom’s season: Bilic was sent packing and the age of Allardyce was ushered in.
This is where the problems, in my opinion, began.
At the very least, with Bilic as manager there was a clear intent — a style of football that was open, expansive and, with the right investment, could almost certainly survive.
In the West Bromwich Albion squad there is the potential for a quality young side, but the board’s failure to put their trust in Bilic has resulted in not necessarily a lack of vision, but a lack of quality.
Bilic’s method of attacking football was never going to be effective in the best league in the world without considerable investment, and when Lai decided against providing a cash injection, problems began to appear.Embed from Getty Images
Perhaps the biggest issue with the transition from Bilic to Allardyce has been the shift in style of play. Allardyce is hailed by pundits far and wide for his supposed defensive organisation and simplification of the game, but with just five points from nine games (at the time of writing) and a home aggregate score of 2-19, even the most adamant Allardyce backers are struggling to see where Albion have improved since Bilic’s dismissal.
I believe the problem lies with the makeup of the squad. This is a squad that has very few traces of the team that were relegated in the 2017/18 season, besides three or four players.
This is not a team that was used to playing Pulis’ style of 10 men behind the ball with the hope of long balls hoofed to a centre-forward who can hold up play. And what has been perhaps most surprising is how badly those left over from the 2017/18 campaign have adapted to Allardyce’s traditional style of play.Embed from Getty Images
Take Kieran Gibbs for example, signed in the summer of 2017 by Pulis himself, but has been considerably off the pace on a number of occasions this season. Most recently nowhere to be seen for the first Fulham goal, making mistakes characteristic of an academy graduate, not of a Premier League veteran.
Players that have been brought in since relegation in 2018 were signed by either Darren Moore or Bilic himself — two managers notable for their attacking, forward thinking football.
So, was it foolish of the board to think a team made of largely inexperienced players suited to attacking football would be able to adjust to such a stark difference in playing style?
Maybe, but hindsight is a blessing.
The problem does not necessarily lie with the appointment of Allardyce, but more so with the staggering lack of investment in the summer of 2020. The appointment of Allardyce was like putting a plaster on a broken arm — it was never going to solve anything.