Man United – West Brom: View from the opposition

Manchester Unites snatch a late equaliser against WBA

Blind and Fellaini celebrate Blind’s dramatic equaliser at the Hawthorns.

Manchester United take on West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on Saturday evening, hoping to bounce back from their first 2-game losing run of the season, following 1-0 and 3-0 reverses to Chelsea and Everton respectively. We’re joined by Warren Stephens, a West Brom fan, who’s kindly answered some of our questions before the game.

1) How would you sum up the season and have you made progress following last year’s campaign?

2013/14 was a disaster on and off the field for a multitude of reasons. At the beginning of the summer the club undertook a series of initiatives to try and re-connect with an increasingly disenfranchised fan-base……then appointed Alan Irvine as Head Coach, much to most fans’ dismay.

Our recruitment was swift and Irvine, as it turned out, was an honest and dignified man, but not a leader. Many of those signings failed and by Christmas our performances began to resemble that training session you have as a kid where there aren’t any goals – we’d end up having 60% possession, yet barely registering a shot on target and losing far too many games.

We played our ‘Get out of relegation free’ card by recruiting Pulis albeit an appointment that seemed at odds with many of the club’s principles. He’s achieved what he came to do, it would seem, however it’s not been pretty.

It’s another big summer for the club – we can’t keep having recruitment disasters and flirting so closely with relegation. In summary, this season’s been slightly less of a catastrophe than last!

2) Is Tony Pulis the right manager for the club?

Good question. Nobody can argue with Tony Pulis’s record, certainly at similar-sized clubs to ours. However Albion are traditionally a footballing side – that’s something the fans generally expect – the club’s structured in a continental way with a Sporting & Technical Director helping on the recruitment side – something Pulis won’t be used to – and he’s inherited a disjointed squad but one full of players with very different attributes to the squad he left at Stoke.

Time will tell but none of the aforementioned lend themselves to it being a smooth transition. The last three months have been ugly, but it’s almost mission accomplished. Expectations will change next season but he’ll have chance to change the face of the squad in the summer. We’ll know a lot more by Christmas.

3) Has Saido Berahino gone off the boil since his drink driving charge? Will you hold on to him for next season?

Not really, I actually think Berahino’s work ethic has improved since Pulis’s arrival which is testament to Pulis. However we’ve ultimately been scrapping against relegation and he hasn’t been seeing much of the ball in the areas he wants to see it.

The kid’s finishing is lethal, with both feet, some people have generously compared him to Ian Wright. I think he needs to add more to his game without the ball and away from the opposition penalty area, but he definitely has talent.

4) With Leicester’s form, are you any bit concerned that you might be in a relegation scrap on the final day of the season?

This might come back to bite me on the backside but I think we’ll be fine, which is just as well as we have United, Chelsea and Arsenal in our last four games.

Too many teams would have to hit form at once. I live in the hope Villa get distracted by their impending cup final appearance and get relegated in the meantime!

5) What have you made of Manchester United and Louis van Gaal this season?

United seem like a team in transition to me, I can’t recall watching them in any game this season and seeing the same sort of vigour you associated with a Ferguson team. I know that was never the case every week under Fergie, certainly in the latter years, but you always got the sense United had it in the locker. This squad looks a little disjointed and I think the summer will be interesting. Van Gaal’s stony interviews have been a great source of amusement though!

6) Can United challenge for the title next campaign?

In all honesty, I don’t think so. To me there are too many gaps to fill. Every great side has an impenetrable spine and United clearly don’t have that leader in their back four. Carrick’s a wonderful player but he’s not 21 you seem to suffer when he’s not fit. Also, it looks like Van Persie and Falcao might be off, or certainly won’t guarantee you 20 goals, so perhaps another striking position to fill too?

As much as it pains me to say as I take great issue with teams almost entirely reliant on external subsidy, Chelsea are going to be tough to surpass while Jose’s there and City will throw a few quid the way of whoever comes in to replace Audrey Roberts, they can’t under-perform as much as they have this season surely?

7) What did you make of United’s performance against Everton last week?

In all honesty I didn’t see the game but the result didn’t surprise me that much, Everton look a much better side recently and United haven’t been convincing. I hear it was pretty painful from a United perspective and maybe it goes back to the point about there being plenty of work to do in the summer.

8) Which United player do you secretly admire?

In the current squad, Carrick. I love Paul Scholes though, what a player. Even as a non-supporter I find myself reminiscing about the Fergie years, United were always fantastic to watch, except when it was against us! I imagine it’s been a pretty tough transition for United supporters.

9) Who is the best player to have worn a Manchester United shirt? And also West Brom? (Not the same player as that is obvious!)

First of all, I should say I’m only 33, so the likes of Best and Charlton have to be excluded on that basis. Therefore I would say Paul Scholes, some of his passing was unreal.

For Albion, I don’t think there are many, if any, players in my lifetime worthy of that title. If you asked older supporters you’d hear the names Jeff Astle, Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham quite a lot. On the basis of his overall contribution to the club I would have to say Tony Bomber Brown.

10) What is your all time WBA Xi?

For any United supporters who didn’t know, Albion have a reasonably prosperous history, certainly for a town of our size. However, relegation from the top flight of English football in 1986 signalled the beginning of the leanest period in our existence. My first game was in 1986! Therefore this XI most definitely won’t be our greatest XI and I’ve included a few cult heroes who, it could be argued, aren’t present on account of their technical ability alone, but here goes:

Russell Hoult
Igor Balis
Neil Clement
Darren Moore
Jonas Olsson
Derek McInnes
Youssouf Mulumbu
Jason Koumas
Peter Odemwingie
Bob Taylor
Kevin Phillips

Ben Foster
Gareth McAuley
Enzo Maresca
Romelu Lukaku
Lee Hughes
Andy Hunt
Nwankwo Kanu

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