I write this in the International break, the brief pause in the domestic football calendar where it is possible to take stock of the Albion’s early-season progress. The league table after six games is a hopelessly poor indicator, with Albion sitting 9th but a win against Birmingham City could see them rise to 3rd, however, a defeat could see them drop to 13th.
This early in the season you have to look at performances, the patterns of play and how the team responds to setbacks rather than the number of points on the board.
On this basis, things are looking healthy at the Hawthorns and the team seem to be on an upward trend, this is in no small part down to head coach Darren Moore, who can take a lot of the credit for this relatively happy situation.
Moore was appointed on the back of the mini-revival at the death of last season when he took over as caretaker for the Albion’s final six games. I have to confess that I had my doubts about making the appointment permanent. In broad terms my concerns were;
- Lack of Experience. Darren was only appointed to a coaching role with the first team in November 2017 and aside from the six-game spell as caretaker had no head coach experience. I did not believe the herculean task of reviving a relegated club should be given to a relative rookie.
- Style of play. Following the disorganised shambles of Pardew’s reign, Moore quickly dusted down the Pulis playbook of a deep sitting block and ground out a few results. Maybe it was the quickest fix but it might not bode well for the future.
- Recruitment. This was my least of my concerns although Albion would have a busy summer with the right support Darren’s inexperience in this regards would not be an issue.
Let me be clear in many other respects I felt Moore was ideal and I would have championed his appointment over many other coaches with far greater experience. However, I had doubts.
At this point, his lack of experience has hardly been exposed. He could be slicker in his dealings with the media but that is trivial. Both Pulis and Pardew were much more comfortable in front of the camera but in their own way, both were snake oil salesmen with dubious intent. The post or pre-match soundbite is nothing compared to what the head coach does with the rest of his time.
Equally the style of play issue has been buried. Across all of the six league games and the two cup games Moore has sent his teams out to pass the ball, retain possession and score goals. This has been a welcome relief from the interminable grind of life under Pulis and the chaos of Pardew. Sometimes it has worked, take the seven-goal demolition of QPR, and on other occasions less so but there is a clear pattern of play and it is an attacking one.
Albion’s inability to appoint a suitable director of football pushed a lot of responsibility onto Moore with regard to player recruitment. However, Albion have assembled a competitive squad and have retained many of the better players from the relegated squad which in no small part reflects Moore’s personal powers of persuasion.
The biggest coup of the summer was the club’s recruitment of long-term Roberto Martinez assistant Graeme Jones, entirely through Darren’s personal connection. The two both played for Doncaster Rovers and have been friends ever since. There are few Championship clubs who have attracted a coach whose last job was with the third-place team from a World Cup.
Moore has laid to rest many of my doubts and the buoyant mood around the club is testimony to his efforts thus far. The Hawthorns is bustling with expectation on match days the Albion are being reborn.
While they may or may not fulfill their potential this season for the first time in a long while, the club seem to heading in a positive direction.