Brighton & Hove Albion 3 - West Bromwich Albion 1
I thought TP had some very difficult decisions to make today - on the one hand he had some really strong new or returning options available and on the other he had a team in decent form and doing everything he asks as a unit, and an international break meaning he had little time to work together with all of the options.
Unfortunately I thought he got some major decisions wrong.
With Brunt and now Gibbs available there was no need to shift Nyom to left back - it gives us a serious problem with balance at the back and Brunt has had a very solid start. I'd have stuck with Brunt and given Gibbs a bit more time to bed in given we hope he's going to be doing the job for the next 4 years. Nyom cost us the goal.
In midfield I was worried he'd put the 3 holding midfielders in there - that's exactly what he did. I don't think they did that bad individually and I thought at times Livermore had his best game of the season but it left us with no forward linking players. I would have either kept it the same as Stoke or dropped Livermore for 'Greg'. We can't play 3 holding midfielders in there and Barry was often our furthest forward which gave him recovery problems. We either have to have Morrison, Chadli or JRod in the advanced role. They all have their merits and I thought if anything this was a game for Chadli in the role.
Out wide left I thought Brunt or McClean were the options (depending upon who we played at left back) and I thought we'd seen enough at Stoke to know that over 90 minutes JRod doesn't have the pace to play there or the legs to get up and support the attack after doing his defensive work.
Up front given Rondon's travels (and probably irrespective of them anyway) I'd have gone with JRod.
I think the game reflected our problems - our left side was totally anonymous and useless until Gibbs came on, our midfield looked one-dimensional and Phillips couldn't get into the game.
Rondon, whatever you think of him, managed to combine terrible luck (read a backpass well but fortune went to the defender), terrible form (touch was pretty bad), no support and suffered from the criminal time it takes for us to deliver a cross when we do get into positions. Seriously - count how many times the ball goes wide, Rondon makes an early run for the cross but we check back, delay it or pass it again. I'm fairly certain now that this is a deliberate ploy to win corners over crossing in open play because I cannot believe professional players at this level can't cross a moving ball or can't beat the first man when given so much time and space.
The goals were really poor and I thought Pulis got his changes wrong and too late. 1-0 down at half time I'd have got Gibbs or Brunt at left back because what we were doing clearly wasn't working.
At 2-0 and with no other strikers on the bench I'd have given JRod 15-20 up front with Rondon or in the 'Mozza' role behind him (with McClean or Phillips left and Burke or Phillips on the right) because whether Rondon was having a beast or not there were no other options.
I'm also not sure how we could have been so open for the 2nd with 3 defensive midfielders on the pitch. Where did they go?
As it was the third goal killed it and was like park football - Burke tried a criminal flick in no-mans-land, Nyom seemed to stop playing and Evans allowed his man to beat him and Foster at the front post.
I didn't think that Brighton were even any good - I'm sure they will struggle.
Depressingly once most of the above issues had been corrected with Gibbs at left back, Morrison as the link man and two proper wingers on the pitch we totally bossed the game despite being pretty poor in terms of quality.
Mozza took his goal well but should have buried another chance. Rodriguez got Rondonitus when instead of instinctively taking a point-blank chance on his left foot (as he would have done in the Bournemouth game) he needed too long to get the ball onto his right foot for a swing and the chance went begging. A 2nd goal would have led to an interesting finish.
So a very depressing result against a survival-rival this season - a cardinal sin for a Pulis team.
I'm not sure how many times in his career Pulis has had the problems he now has - 2 genuine contenders for every position most of whom signed on big money by him.
What he cannot do is pick players outside of their positions to accommodate his favourites any more - such is the quality of the squad we no longer have any player who can 'do a job' in a position better than the specialist options we now have. That should be the lesson from this game.
We are not a rich enough club with good enough players to hang Chadli out to dry - he has to contribute for as long as we are paying him.
TP is also going to have to upset some pretty good players who are in their pomp in order to pick a side with the right balance - that might mean dropping Livermore, Rondon, Nyom, Dawson, Hegazi etc.
If you look at todays starting line up:
To accommodate Evans (bearing in mind the Dawson/Hegazi combination had only let in one goal in 3 PL games before today) Dawson is shifted out to RB despite having generally been considered to have played well at CB. To accommodate Dawson at RB, Nyom is shifted back over to LB which pushes Brunt out. We now have to accommodate 3 defensive minded midfielders in Livermore, Barry and Krychowiak instead of having a more attacking midfield. For some reason, we are still trying to accommodate Rondon up front and by accommodating Rondon up front, we have to accommodate Rodriguez on the wing.
For me, Rondon wouldnt start 1 PL goal since the Swansea game in December 2016. That means Rodriguez gets to play centrally.
We need an attacking midfielder so once Krychowiak is match fit I think Livermore misses out. (Did I hear about an interview where Pulis basically said that due to the internationals none of the new signings had had chance to get to know the squad and that Krychowiak hadnt had a pre-season?).
Brunt stays at LB until Gibbs is integrated and is then used further up field. At the moment Dawson at CB with Nyom outside works although Evans would come in for Hegazi. In reality, maybe 3 at the back may be the better option with the players we have defensively.
I think TP has shown us enough of himself for us not to be shocked and outraged after a performance like that.
He is very clear in that his modus operandi is to sit and defend, give the ball to the opposition and frustrate them into making a mistake... this often works well against confidence teams that need to be inventive and dynamic but obviously teams that lack self-confidence are encouraged by constantly being given ball possession and territory.
e.g. a team like Liverpool that feel they should be beating us and demonstrating goals from ball and territory can make mistakes when frustrated- equally a team like Huddersfield or Brighton given possession and not having their goal threatened start to recapture some of the confidence they played with when they are in training or that they played with dominating the Championship last year.. this encourages them to try different things ... things that we are ill-equipped to prepare for because we don't know their players as well as say Southamptons...
The way to beat teams like that is not let their players feel as though they belong in this division... pressure their anxiety and the anxiety of their home fans and constantly show them they are not good enough as a team for this league so even their good players start distrusting their team mates...
Pulis manages by discipline and drilling constantly the same shape and methods so he is not comfortable changing the mentality even against newly promoted sides so he hopes we have the quality and perhaps luck to get through games like this.
Added to the lack of drilling this week because of international absences (I would be interested to find out his stats after an international break) he simply thinks that competing against the mid table teams is what will ensure survival and he focuses his methods on combating them and their tangle of pressured anxiety.
I'm not saying it's right but you can see why over the course of a season his methods achieve enough results to ensure West Brom are one of the richest 25 clubs in the world and he would say a few shambolic performances against lowly opposition is a price worth paying I suspect.
I think it also demonstrates why we under-perform so much in cup competitions as well.
Good luck to Brighton but I can't see many teams giving them a present like we did yesterday.
Big away following against Brighton who have scored no goals and only have 1 point so what do we do...
Line up 3 defensive minded midfielders giving us zero creativity or drive going forward, play our best striker out of position wide to accommodate the worst striker at the club up front, switch Nyom onto his wrong foot when we now have an actual left back in Gibbs at the club for the first time in years and brunt as cover. put Dawson at right back when nyom has been playing well there. Only put attacking midfielders on the pitch (Morrison and Burke) when the game is gone. Brighton were there for the taking, I bet they won't score 3 goals again this side of Christmas because no one else will line up so negatively against them. I honestly thought we'd picked that line up to play Man City, we just totally surrendered possession and the initiative to Brighton who took full advantage.
Why for once can't we just go at someone instead of negative tactics regardless of who the opposition is.
Please if there is a football god make Pulis play Burke or Mad Mick out wide, Chadli or Morrison behind the striker, his favourite 2 out of Livermore/Barry/Gregorz in the middle and full backs playing at full back and Rodriguez up front instead of Rondon, I have seen enough of him... Rodriguez looked so threatening against Bournemouth.
With these tactics even the wins aren't even that entertaining and the defeats, yesterdays especially, are getting increasingly painful to watch.
After the hoopla surrounding the transfer window and the expectations our new additions (and retentions) created, our performance was a huge disappointment. Un-Pulislike in defence, we were weak in the air on two of their goals and horribly exposed through the middle on the other, although Foster might have done better with their second. Up front we were quite Pulislike, creating very little, other than two hard Barry shots that might have seen the net on another day. Rondon still looked jet-lagged, losing possession on the few occasions he got the ball. J-Rod and Phillips didn't look much better.
It was left to Mozza to inject a bit of attacking flare, although by that time the game was pretty well out of reach. Burke 'The Bull' (as in China shop variety) ran hard and created a bit of panic, nodding down nicely for Mozza's goal, but doesn't seem to be over-endowed in the skill department (yet). Krychoviak (did I get that right?) looked classy and assured on the ball, but there doesn't seem to be room for him, Barry and Livermore on the pitch at the same time.
It was interesting to see Pulis opt for Nyom, a right back, instead of Gibbs at left back. I love Nyom, but when Gibbs came on he looked a class above most and provided the fine cross that resulted in the goal. I was hoping Chadli would be traded, but since he hasn't been, Pulis needs to find a way to get him motivated to add attacking creativity and to increase his value for the next window.
To be fair, with all the new faces, the International break and the unsettling situation with Evans, perhaps yesterday's performance was to be expected. Pulis will have to figure out how to best integrate his new pieces without dismantling our defensive solidity.
Philip Cole (RSABaggie):
I haven't got anything to add to the other match reports which cover everything very well. But to pick up on a point Brendan made, we've had a very good transfer window and there is now competition for every position. The onus is now on Pulis to show that he can manage a strong squad rather than simply manage to mid-table security.
If our best team, which all the match reports have identified, is played week-in week-out we should be in contention for a Europa league position plus some decent cup runs. Is Pulis up to the task? Based on the showing against Brighton you'd have to say that the jury is very much out!
Sadly, when the Stripes went marching in, we were in green
Despite our three-game unbeaten start to the season, and the opposition having gone three games without a goal, it was all change for the clash of the Albions, although with the usual approach of Pulis's Albion up against an Albion with the best defensive record in England last season, perhaps calling it a "clash" slightly oversold the contest.
It would have been interesting to see the starting back four had the new boy with the Arsenal pedigree, Gibbs, been fit, however the return of Evans saw a complete reshuffle at the back, Dawson once again banished to right-back, with right-footed, right-back Nyon swapping to the left, so as to replace the left-footed Brunt, who thus found himself consigned to the bench, presumably behind both Rodriguez, who started as the wide left-player, and left-winger McClean, who merely joined Brunt on the bench.
The midfield looked decidedly inoffensive, what with Krychowiak being given his first start anchoring Livermore and Barry, whilst Phillips at least got to start on the right side. Up front, Rondon was asked to plough the lone furrow.
A first half that mostly consisted of both sides lumping it forwards towards targetmen who never looked like making much out of the scant service threatened to spring to life on a couple of occasions, firstly when the normally solid Foster spilled a shot from outside the box and Brighton had the ball in the net in the thirteenth minute, only for the striker to be ruled offside, whilst Barry 's 38th minute strike from similar range finally brought a save out of the Brighton keeper.
As the half ground to a close, Albion appeared to have shutdown another promising BHA attack but, in clearing the ball back to the opposition, they afforded their hosts one last opportunity to throw the ball into the box and on this occasion, Nyom completely misjudged the flight of the cross, but even then we had so many players massed in the box that the Brighton player, Gross's, shot would have to go through three defenders before making it over the line.
If that piece of defending was uncharacteristic by our usual standards, Brighton's second, shortly after the restart was even worse, with most of Albion's backline getting sucked over to the right which meant that when the ball was played left, Gross found himself all alone with no covering midfielders between him and the gaping hole between Evans and Nyom and with more than enough time to get off a shot from 20 yards that beat Foster.
Given that Gibbs had been considered not to be fit enough to start, his introduction as part of Pulis's response to going 2-0 down seemed odd, and that was before you take into account that he wasn't brought on as a straight swap for Nyom at left back but came on for centre-back Hegazi, as part of a complete reshuffle of the back four.
Clearly though, merely re-arranging the back four at 2-0 down didn't even strike Pulis as enough of an adequate response and he took off Rondon and shuffled his wide midfield players around, bringing Burke on the right and moving Phillips over to the left.
Whatever all that shuffling was designed to do in terms of getting the away side back into the game, it failed to prevent the home side from going three up shortly after the hour mark, after Burke lost the ball allowing Brighton to put in a cross from our right that saw Evans left for dead by the movement of the striker who got ahead of him in the six-yard box and steered a header in at the near post.
At 3-0 down with 20 minutes to go, Pulis finally took the shackles off, sacrificing Livermore for Morrison's creativity and was rewarded with the kind of goal that only a midfielder more at home breaking into the oppositions box that one used to sitting on the edge of his own as Mozza arrived, unmarked, on the penalty spot to drive home Barry's header knock-back from a Gibbs cross in a move that started with Krychowiak spreading the ball out to the left. Morrison would even have one more opportunity, in stoppage time, but even that would not have been enough to salvage anything from a game in which Pulis, once again, afforded a "lower" side all the chances they needed to take a lead that they could hold onto, rather than approach the game the other way around.
But what to make of the new signings, all six of whom got a run out in this one? Starting, where else, at the back, Hegazi can consider himself unlucky to have been taken off, but may well have made his last start, as Evans and Dawson move centre-stage, whilst "not fit enough to start but fit enough to change the game at 2-0 down", super-sub, Gibbs can hardly be judged on this one, but will surely now be the, by virtue of being the only, left back. Just in front of the back four, Krychowiak looks full of promise although if he ends up with both the dependable but uncreative Barry, and the equally uncreative Livermore, alongside him in the three, it's not clear who he'll be looking play forward balls to, given that Rodriguez looks likely to fill the "great with the ball at his feet but being asked to do a job out wide" role in place of the now discarded Chadli, and finally out on the right, Burke seems more of a straight swap for a Leko we felt needed to go out on loan, full of off the bench directness but no end product, than a player likely to give Phillips any worries about a place in the starting eleven.
What we can say, I think, is that we are going to have one hell of an experienced bench this season.
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