Preview: West Brom (v) Villa – #avfc #wba

A “must win” against local rivals.  What could possibly go wrong?

In a half decade of seemingly relentless “must win” fixtures, this absolutely has to count as the most important.  Arguably the rational amongst us have accepted a long anticipated fate, the optimistic (mathematicians?) might raise a dispute.

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Despite our position we go into the game in slightly better shape [by our standards].  A four game unbeaten ‘run’, albeit two fixtures versus Wycombe, represents a change from otherwise horrendous form.  The victory in the league against Palace was deserved & we were unlucky to only get a point against Leicester.

So, matters are marginally less disastrous on the pitch than a few weeks ago, but it would be ill advised to refer to it as progress.

A win is essential if we are to keep pace with sides around us who are now beginning to muster a revival.  Our efforts, compounded by our record breaking early season form, are further hindered by the current lack of new faces.  

Whilst there is a debate to be had as to who would come, at what cost and if there’s any point, the fact is that our nearest rivals are at least trying to recruit.  At the time of writing, we are currently the exception.  The suggestion is that we have already resigned ourselves to relegation, our inaction all but confirms it.

In terms of form there is little to pick between the sides.  We have improved marginally, picking up 6 points from 6.  Albion have secured just a point more over the same period.  It is middling, lower to middle table form all round.

The more telling fact is that West Brom’s home form is their strength, having won 3 of their last 6.  Our away form by contrast tells the full story, with just two points taken from 24 available in the last 6 games.  The four defeats in that period have also each come by two clear goals.

So, a difficult outlook, when we can least afford it.

Still, there are signs of encouragement.  Ayew looks potent, Kozak is being included & Veretout’s growing into a decent player.  If Garde can keep the defence settled, judge Richards’ best role & give the centre halves some protection, we may have a fighting chance.

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Equally crucial is our attacking set up.

Garde is ultra conservation, but we are now at the point of no return.

A solitary striker makes sense in different circumstances, but the logical approach has to be a partnership of Ayew & Kozak.  Gestede, despite scoring the equaliser against Leicester just hasn’t shown enough to warrant consideration for me.  Indeed, his inept performance against League 2 Wycombe in both fixtures underlines this fact.

What of Albion?

I sit firmly in the camp that Pulis and his approach serves a purpose, but ultimately will leave a club desperate for more.  As such, I am glad that he isn’t boss of Villa.  It might seem absurd given our plight, but I simply couldn’t tolerate survival on the terms he lays down.  Albion are better off for having him, they certainly won’t go down, but they’re going absolutely no further than he’s taken them already.

They will undoubtedly be out for victory with their points tally stagnating and having never quite recovered from being turned over twice in a week by Villa last season.  Revenge is a dish served cold, & in our experience, repeatedly.

West Brom are a strange team. Efficient without standout figures.  They also don’t have an obvious goalscorer.  Also the dressing room has to deal with baggage in the form of Berahino.  It is the dictionary definition Pulis side, set up not to lose and to just about get themselves over the finishing line.  It’s certainly not pretty, but if surviving is your objective [and we should know], it’s pretty effective.  

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Prediction Corner

If by some miracle we can iron out the defensive frailties, I can just about see an upset, but only by the slimmest of nail biting margins:

1-0 Villa, with Ayew to score.