Friday, 24 February 2017

Rival Lines: Pulis has released the shackles at home

Rival Lines
Match Preview: WBA v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Albion Till We Die
Twitter: @albiontillwedie

This week I spoke to Mark who works on the Albion Till We Die website. I imagined that Mark was like many Baggies being very pleased with how things were going at the Hawthorns. But what I didn't know is whether Baggies were really happy with Tony Pulis and the players they have at the club or if there was still some anxiety about things at WBA despite the team doing well.

CC: Do you think that Tony Pulis should be pretty high up on the list for manager of the season?

ATID: Well I suppose that if you take into consideration the resources he's had and the money spent by the vast majority of clubs currently below us, you have to say that Pulis has done a fantastic job in getting us into our current 8th position. Obviously the likes of Conte and Pochettino are bound to walk away with the accolade come the season's end but Pulis and perhaps even Sean Dyche at Burnley do deserve plenty of credit for going head to head with the big boys.

CC: Are Baggies fans more fond of Pulis than the media would suggest?

ATID: Well, he's certainly more popular now than he was a while ago that's for sure but I think the jury is still out for quite a lot of Albion fans. The last few months have been great but the absolute dross we suffered for the previous 12 months or so will take some time to forget. Having said that I'd say the majority of fans are now behind Pulis.

Broom Hill Garden Buildings

CC: What are the main reasons do you put WBA's good form down to, since that 0-4 home defeat back in October to Man City?

ATID: There's definitely been a change in our style of play, helped in no small part by the form of Matt Phillips and the return of Chris Brunt and James Morrison. Earlier in the season we lacked players that could create chances and cause problems for the opposition but in Phillips, Brunt and Morrison, along with Nacer Chadli, that problem has been solved. I think also that Pulis has released the shackles slightly, especially at home. At one stage it appeared that our sole intention in games was to purely frustrate the opposition and play for a draw.

CC: You signed Marc Wilson on loan until the end of the season in January from AFC Bournemouth, as well as Jake Livermore (Hull), but was the January window disappointing for WBA fans?

ATID: After only a couple of appearances for the Baggies, Jake Livermore is starting to look like a great signing for the club and one that fits perfectly into Tony Pulis' style of play. Apart from the former Hull man however the transfer window was indeed once again disappointing for Baggies' fans. We have desperately needed a quality striker for some time now to take the burden off Salomon Rondon, who to all intents and purposes is the only senior striker at the club. If the big Venezuelan picks up an injury anytime soon then the failure to sign a striker in January could be disastrous.

CC: Has the new ownership of Guochuan Lai made a difference to where the club wants to aim to be?

ATID: Six months on from Lai purchasing the club there seems to have been absolutely no difference in the way the club is run. Whether that's a good or bad thing is open to debate. The majority of Albion fans were hopeful that the club's new ownership would see the shackles lifted on the club's notoriously tight transfer budget but as of yet it seems that the previous regime's modus operandi has been continued by Lai.

CC: How good is Salomon Rondon and do you expect him to stay next season?
ATID: I'll be honest, and I'm probably in the minority here, but I'm really not a fan of Rondon at all. He works hard and puts himself about, and can be dangerous in the air but his finishing with his feet and his hold-up play leaves a lot to be desired.

There was talk of a big money move to China for the player in January and that would probably be the most likely place he would eventually end up. If the player has had his head turned by the reported interest, I think the club will probably be better off selling him in the summer.

CC: Why do you think Matt Phillips has fitted in so well and was he a better buy than Nacer Chadli?

ATID: I think they are both good signings in their own ways. Phillips has added pace and creativity to the side whilst Chadli has added a little bit of unpredictability and class to the team.

Phillips actually started the season quite slowly and supporters were far from convinced that he was a good signing. Chadli on the other hand started the season on fire. As the season has progressed Phillips has got better and better whilst Chadli has struggled to hit his early season form.

CC: Was the FA Cup defeat to Derby a wasted opportunity leaving WBA fans with little to play for? Or is trying to catch Everton for seventh place enough to keep WBA fans happy?
ATID: The cup defeat against Derby is undoubtedly the biggest disappointment of the season so far. With the 50th anniversary of our last cup final appearance fast approaching fans are desperate to see us once again lift the famous old trophy. A seventh place finish in the Premier League is meaningless to the majority of our fans compared to success in the FA Cup.

CC: It was a close game between Bournemouth and WBA at Dean Court earlier this season, but are you at all worried that Pulis has found it hard to get points off of Eddie Howe's teams?

ATID: We do seem to have struggled to pick up results recently against Bournemouth but I feel Saturday's game might be a slightly different affair. There's definitely been a change in the way Pulis approaches home games and whilst the Cherries are a good attacking team you always fancy them to concede goals. I'm more confident going into this game than I have been for any of the previous recent meetings.

CC: How do you expect WBA to set up for this game?
ATID: I'd expect us to line-up as we have done in recent games with Foster in goal, Nyom, McAuley, Dawson and Brunt across the back, Livermore and Fletcher as the holding midfielders, Chadli and Phillips out wide and Morrison playing behind the lone striker Rondon.

CC: Is there anything visiting fans should look out for when coming to the Hawthorns for the first time?

ATID: If any Cherries fans are looking for somewhere to go for a pre-match drink or food then definitely check out The Vine. It's about a 15 minute walk from The Hawthorns and it does get very busy but as pre-match venues go it's up there with the best.

CC:Some great points from Mark. I thank him for his time and for making AFCB fans welcome at the Hawthorns. While a seventh place finish might seem meaningless to some, there are many AFCb fans who would take 17th now if it would mean another season in the top flight - things are getting tight down the bottom. There is no such worries for the Baggies though and I get the feeling this game will be more about which AFCB turns up than the Albion who are becoming a consistent side. Don't forget to checkout the Albion Till I Die site.

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