WBA vs Aston Villa – 2014/15
Pre-Match Interview with Albion Til We Die
In our pre-Midland’s derby ritual, MOMS chats with Mark Thomas of West Brom website Albion Til We Die. Both teams have similar problems when it comes to on the field performances. Villa have stood by their man, while the Baggies have tried various managers to solve their problems with limited success. Again, disappointingly both teams find themselves in the bottom half going into the clash. A draw is expected, but a victory could help define each team’s Christmas period. UTV
MOMS: The Albion have been on a poor run of late with four straight losses before the draw against Hull. What’s the mood amongst supporters at the moment?
ATWD: Pretty down to be honest and it’s more than justified. As well as the recent poor results, we’re currently being served up some of the most negative and downright awful football seen at The Hawthorns for quite a while. And with growing discontent towards manager Alan Irvine and his coaching team, it all makes for a pretty depressing mood around the club at present.
Villa have been very, very, very patient with Paul Lambert while the Baggies have been down the rapid hire and fire route in recent seasons. Is there any pressure on Alan Irvine at the moment?
Well there’s huge pressure on him from supporters who didn’t want him originally and have certainly never taken to him. Easily the most underwhelming and unpopular managerial appointment in the club’s history, Irvine would have gone weeks ago if the majority of supporters had a say in matters. Whether he is under pressure from the club’s hierarchy is another thing. Club owner Jeremy Peace made it clear that Irvine was his pick as the club hunted for a successor to Pepe Mel and for him to sack him just six months later would be hugely embarrassing for him, forcing him to admit that the supporters were right about Irvine all along. Having said that, a poor performance and defeat against Villa would have supporters fans baying for blood even more and the calls for Irvine to go may just be a little too loud for Peace to ignore.
Looking back at this impatient approach to managers, do you have any regrets about the dismissal of any recent managers in the last few years? Steve Clark, for example?
Rather than the dismissal of managers, the problem for us has been the choice of managers Peace and the directors have appointed. Neither Clarke or Pepe Mel should have been anywhere near our club and they wouldn’t have been if the club operated how the vast majority of clubs do. With Albion’s ‘Head Coach’ having no say in transfers and being forced to work with existing coaching staff it’s a pretty unattractive role to most other managers. Peace continues to insist that the current set-up will continue but it’s starting to become pretty clear that changes are needed if the club are to progress.
Many people neutrals expressed surprise at Clarke’s sacking but the truth is we were playing some pretty poor stuff at the time and we were showing no signs of escaping the slump in results that we were experiencing. It was at the time the right decision. As mentioned previously, it was the choice of his replacement that was the problem.
How do you consider the current home atmosphere at the Hawthorns?
It’s been generally poor but understandably so given the dirge we’ve had to suffer over the last two years. As so often is the case when teams are struggling, supporters tend to take it out on certain players with captain Chris Brunt the latest player to suffer from the ‘boo boys’. It’s not been a pleasant place to be for quite a while.
Have there been any initiatives or plans to do anything extra or to improve it (if you think it needs improving)?
It certainly does need improving and the club have attempted to improve matters with the re-introduction of the Harry J All-Stars’ classic ‘The Liquidator’, which was banned a few years back due to complaints surrounding the bad language used by Baggies’ fans during the song. It helps slightly but the biggest thing needed to improve the current atmosphere is for the team to start performing and start winning, it’s proving easier said than done however.
What are the current burning supporter issues at West Brom? And what do Albion fans do to tackle them?
For all they’ve done wrong with on-field matters over the last couple of years, it has to be said that the club are making huge strides off the field to repair what was a pretty broken down relationship with supporters. The appointment to roles of a couple of respected local media guys in Martin Swain and Chris Lepkowski, who know the club inside out and it’s supporters, has helped tremendously to open up what was a pretty insular set-up. The club is also currently setting up an ‘Albion Assembly’, which in theory will provide a supporters’ representative group that meets with the club regularly. On paper it’s a decent idea but time will tell how useful it is having seen similar projects fail in the past.
Do you think Jonas Olsson’s injury has/will impact the team majorly? Are his best years behind him? Villa have had their first three centre-backs out, but have found potentially the best centre-back partnership yet as a result…
Sadly I think we have seen the best of Jonas Olsson. Whilst the big man could undoubtedly still do a job for us he’s nowhere near the rock in our defence he was for his first four or so years at the club. He looked out of sorts at times last season as well as during the opening games of this season and as a result was rightly dropped by Irvine. With Joleon Lescott in such impressive form for us, and with the usually reliable duo of Gareth McAuley and Craig Dawson in front of him, Olsson will find it extremely difficult to regain his place in the team.
Do you rate your academy product Saido Berahino and do you think he’ll stay Baggie for much longer?
He’s certainly got everything required to become a top Premier League striker – pace, power, good control, vision and he’s a hell of a finisher for his age. It would be interesting to see him playing in a confident attacking Albion team as opposed to the one he’s featuring for now. As for whether he remains at the club for much longer, a lot depends on what division we will be playing in next season. Relegation would surely see him leave with the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham all reported to be sniffing around him.
He was obviously arrested for drink-driving recently and talking about playing Champions League football, are there any concerns about his temperament? Or do you think you’ll get a good few seasons out of him?
That’s definitely the major concern around him with his drink driving arrest the latest in a growing list of misdemeanours he has reportedly committed. We had been continually told he had grown up following his nightmare second half of last season which culminated in him allegedly being punched by team mate James Morrison following the 3-3 draw at home to Cardiff. However, the recent newspaper reports suggest that he still has some growing up to do. If he can cut out the stupidity then he should go on to play at the top level for many years either at Albion or elsewhere.
What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the current team?
We desperately lack pace all over the pitch and have done for a number of seasons. The signings of World Cup stars Cristian Gamboa and Silvestre Varela, and Nigerian striker Brown Ideye, were supposed to go someway to rectifying that but Alan Irvine has had different ideas and they have hardly featured for us. We also play with a distinct lack of width which maybe makes it harder for teams to break us down, but also reduces our threat to the opposition. We can be dangerous from set-pieces, indeed that has been our most likely route to goal in recent matches.
Do you look at Aston Villa as a potential three points nowadays? And why?
It’s certainly a winnable game but that applies for both sides. Whilst we haven’t lost many against you recently (one in seven), we also haven’t won many which suggests that the two sides are pretty evenly matched, something the league tables over the last few seasons back up.
If you could have one Villa player in the Albion team, apart from Benteke, who would it be?
It would have to be Gabby Agbonlahor. With his pace and direct style of play he always causes problems for us and I’d actually prefer to see his name missing from Villa’s teamsheet on Saturday rather than Benteke.
Performance-wise, Villa have actually been playing better in recent games, does the Albion’s recent results cover up decent performances? What should we expect?
The performances have matched the results to be honest – poor. So far this season Irvine has generally played with one striker, usually Berahino, with Stephane Sessegnon playing as an attacking midfielder off him. Last game at Hull he went with Victor Anichebe in the lone striker role but with the former Everton man picking up a knock the Baggies’ boss may decide to give another chance to the so far mis-firing record signing Brown Ideye.
Prediction for the game?
Given recent performances, and with the mood amongst supporters how it currently is, it’s hard to see past a draw or Villa win. If we are to get something out of the game I feel we will need to score first to lift the confidence of the players and the mood of supporters. If we concede first I really do fear for us.
Albion 1-1 Villa.
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