FanZoner Joe Chapman piles praise on Steve Clarke for his half-time changes against Newcastle, but feels West Brom still lack obvious width.
What on earth did Steve Clarke say to his players at half-time on Saturday?
After our well documented run of two matches in 34 days, many West Brom fans (including myself) calculated the extra preparation time pre-match and anticipated a 'quickly-out-of-the-blocks' approach. Football, of course, is never that straightforward.
While you can criticise the seemingly lacklustre performance of Albion in the first period, Newcastle and Alain Pardeux (or Alan Pardew, for those of you who have not mastered the French tongue) must be handed a great deal of credit. Yohan Cabaye demonstrated why he is in such high favour, while on another day the razor sharp Papiss Cisse could have had a hat-trick.
I immediately questioned the removal of Claudio Yacob at half-time. Yes, Shane Long undoubtedly had an influence in the second half, and the consistent Argentinian didn't enjoy one of his finer games against the awkward Moussa Sissoko. However, the 'all-guns-blazing' approach made me anxious of the lack of protection in front of our centre-back pairing, something we have become accustomed to.
The second 45 minutes were thrilling to watch, from an Albion perspective. I lost count of the number of free-kicks that I witnessed Graham Dorrans and Chris Brunt deliver, causing rookie Rob Elliott no end of problems.
Once again, I'll the emphasise the vast improvements that Billy Jones has applied to his game. Man of the match for me (and many others, judging by the boos that met Chris Brunt's name on the tannoy), he was the one player who could have been satisfied with his first-half efforts. I was especially pleased for him when he got his goal, there was no-one more deserving.
Many people will wonder what happened to our second half of the season this campaign, a campaign that offered so much in the way of what could be achieved. Don't get me wrong, how could you be unhappy with eighth place and the highest points tally accumulated in our Premier League history?
One theory I have is the wingers. On the opening game of the season, we lined up with Peter Odemwingie and Zoltan Gera on either flank. They netted eight goals between them in the first half of the season and played big parts in our early success. With Gera suffering the injury he did, coupled with the Odemwingie saga (which details I won't regurgitate), it has had a huge (and negative) impact, in my opinion.
With five games to play, it is natural to study the remaining fixtures of your team and mathematise the final points tally. Upon appointment, Steve Clarke made clear his intentions of reaching the 50-point milestone. I do believe we'll reach it.
An ever-improving Southampton side will be a tough nut to crack, and I feel a point will be well earned at St Mary's. I also think we'll edge Wigan, with many fans excited for the return of former Hawthorns favourite Paul Scharner. I don't expect anything from either Manchester club, despite the title race coming to a halt on Monday night, but I foresee us nicking three points at Carrow Road in a similar way to which we achieved three points there last year.
On a final note, all were saddened to hear of the news that Dave Matthews had passed away. The former kit-man was at the club for over 50 years and his life and work was celebrated with a minute's applause on Saturday, impeccably upheld by both sets of fans.