The start to this season has been relatively optimistic for West Bromwich Albion, refreshing for everyone associated with the club. Normally the experts are predicting the Midlands club to be in the thick of a relegation battle. However, this time round there appears to be an air of optimism around the Hawthorns thanks to the presence of Roy Hodgson.
Since Hodgson’s appointment in February the club have only lost two Premier League games and ended the season in 11th, their highest league finish in almost 30 years. The former Fulham and Liverpool manager has also been incredibly astute in the transfer market this summer; picking up several interesting free transfers and loan deals. Hodgson has added goalkeeper Ben Foster on loan from Birmingham City for the season after Scott Carson moved to Bursaspor, and has also taken advantage of the free transfer market by bringing in Martin Fulop, Billy Jones and Gareth McAuley. This certainly strengthens West Brom’s defensive options which were needed after last year.
However, the two transfers that have really caught every fans eye are those of Zoltan Gera and Shane Long. The Hungarian playmaker returns to the Black Country after leaving for Fulham three years ago. He enjoyed a very successful spell previously after signing from Ferencvaros in 2004, scoring 25 goals in 155 games. The 32-year-old has been brought in on a free transfer and will be an integral part of the squad this season.
Hodgson also completed a deal to bring Reading striker Shane Long to the Hawthorns for a fee of £4.5m, rising to £6.5m. The 24 year old Republic of Ireland striker scored 28 goals in the Championship and Hodgson will be keen for him to replicate that form. His other first choice striker Peter Odemwingie enjoyed a very successful debut season and they will be looking to form a lethal partnership for the Baggies.
It will be a tough start to the season for West Brom as they host the reigning champions Manchester United in the opening fixture. They follow that up with a trip to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea before hosting Stoke City. However, after that they face two of the newly promoted sides which could enable them to pick up a few points. The end of the season is a little tricky with trips to Bolton Wanderers and Liverpool along with home games against Arsenal and Aston Villa.
Although there is a sense that West Brom should be fine in the Premier League this season it will be vital that every player contributes to their maximum. Manager Roy Hodgson is excellent at this level as he showed at Fulham and fans should face a relatively trouble free season.
Key signing – Zoltan Gera: A former fans favourite and someone Hodgson knows incredibly well as he signed him when manager of Fulham. The key for many Premier League clubs is scoring enough goals to remain in the league and his link up with Long and Odemwingie will be crucial. The fact he was a free transfer just edges out Shane Long for this spot.
Key departure – Scott Carson: The transfer that nobody saw coming this summer involved the West Brom goalkeeper moving to Ferencvaros for just over £2m. He endured a rather tough season last time out and was dropped at the turn of the year. It was a sad ending for the keeper who was instrumental in getting the side promoted after keeping 15 clean sheets the season before.
Reid – Tamas – Olsson – Shorey
Gera – Mulumbu – Morrison – Brunt
Odemwingie – Long