West Bromwich Albion Season Preview: is Moore the man?

With the 2018-19 Championship season drawing nearer, The Football Lab spoke to Alex Newton ( @AlexRobNewton ) from Read West Brom.

You finished bottom of the Premier League last season. Was it the decision to dismiss Tony Pulis while 17th in December that led to your relegation, or was the defensive football he enforced partly responsible for the downward spiral?

It was a manor of things across the whole season. We got rid of Pulis too late and then replaced him with Alan Pardew, throw in a shambles of a mid-season tour to Barcelona, and we were always destined for the drop. The defensive football didn’t help, but it wasn’t the only thing that caused us to go down.

Clearly, Darren Moore was the man to galvanize the troops last season for a spirited finale. How much credit does he deserve for re-uniting the club?

Nearly all of it but he now has a huge task on his hands. He’smgot the fans back on board but now he has to get the players believing he’s a credible manager and last season wasn’t a fluke. His ‘we not me’ approach will only keep the fans onboard. The club feels more connected to the fans but there are still a few bad eggs in the camp.

Although Moore did great work with the current set of players, he hasn’t previously had a transfer window as a manager, nor has he proved that he can re-build a squad. Is that a disadvantage of giving him the permanent gig?

I had my apprehensions for this very reason. Can Darren Moore attract players to West Bromwich Albion? So far he’s done okay in the window but the next nine months will show us what he’s made of regarding management. While he’s one of the nicest guys in football, he can’t become a pushover.

Sam Johnstone was arguably the best goalkeeper in the Championship last season. Are you glad to see him join from Manchester United?

Johnstone is the perfect replacement for Ben Foster. He was a top keeper in the Championship last season and he’s a decade younger than Foster. Its always nice to get one over Aston Villa too.

Right-back Craig Dawson looks a threat in both boxes, but he doesn’t give you much width. Given that you’ll have to play on the front foot more this year, could that be a problem?

Dawson is a valuable asset to Albion on the pitch but off it he’s acting disgracefully. He’s refusing to play to try force a move, if Albion can cash in it may be worth reinvesting to help a threadbare defence.

Gareth McAuley has been released and Jonny Evans has gone to Leicester but Kyle Bartley, who has impressed at this level with Leeds, signs from Swansea. Do you expect him to partner Ahmed Hegazi?

Bartley will 100% be a starter at this point, and I think that’s more to do with the lack of depth in defence. Hegazi was hot and cold last season, but he should be more than good enough at this level.

Kieran Gibbs should be of a high-pedigree for the Championship. Are you looking forward to seeing what he can do?

Yeah for sure. Gibbs is still a quality player, and it was obvious to see he was a class above the rest last season. If he stays which looks likely, he’ll be one of the best players in the Championship.

Your midfield looked slow last season with Jake Livermore and Gareth Barry. Are you concerned you’ve not had a bigger overhaul there, or confident the likes of Sam Field and Rakeem Harper can shake things up?

It has been years since we saw a fast attacking midfield at the Albion. Hopefully, in the Championship we’ll be able to see that. Livermore should thrive at this level and like you mentioned we have some great youngsters like Field, Harper and Kyle Edwards coming through that should spice things up.

James Morrison has reportedly left this summer, leaving set piece specialist Chris Brunt as the longest-serving player. Will he play an important role in the dressing room?

With players like Evans, Foster and Morrison (who could still be offered a new contract) leaving there’s a big void of leaders in the squad. Brunt has to step up and rally the troops for a promotion campaign. It’s a big ask on his own but he knows this club better than anybody.

Matt Phillips has been linked with Cardiff and Middlesbrough while fellow wide man Nacer Chadli will surely get offers after his excellent World Cup with Belgium. Would you be worried if both players left?

If we sign suitable replacements, no. Chadli will bring in a big fee and Phillips had a dreadful season last time out. If we spend the money wisely it could be the overhaul the club needs.

Attacking midfielders Oliver Burke and Jonathan Leko have shown flashes of potential in their careers to date. Could either of them make a name for themselves in 2018-19?

For Burke, this feels like his make or break season. He joined for a considerable fee and was never given a fair chance in the first team. He’s been in the Championship before so should thrive at this level. As for Leko, his pace off the bench could be Albion’s secret weapon this season.

There are question marks about the futures of Jay Rodriguez and Salomon Rondon, while Hal Robson-Kanu hasn’t done an awful lot in his club career. Is another striker needed?

If Rodriguez or Rondon leave then 100%, we need another front man. No club from the Premier League to the National League can rely on Hal Robson-Kanu upfront. If we keep one of Rodriguez or Rondon though we should have a 20-goal a season striker in our ranks.

Baggies aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I’m looking forward to this season and seeing lots of new teams and grounds. Forest have invested very well and will be right up there. I also like the looks of Leeds this season, it would be great to see Albion up there at the end too of course!

Where will you finish?

Heart – 1st
Head – 8th

Thanks to Alex for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on West Brom can be found on We Love Betting from 30th July.