FA Cup – Third round
League Cup – Third round
West Bromwich Albion have enjoyed a fine first season under manager Steve Clarke as they finished in eighth position in the Scot’s first year in charge. This campaign has been full of record breaking moments for the Baggies as their top ten finish was the club’s highest since 1981.
Additionally this year’s points tally of 48 is their highest ever in the Premier League; a feat which is even more impressive when you consider that this year was Clarke’s first foray into management after successful spells as second-in-command at Chelsea, Liverpool, West Ham and Newcastle.
While the West Brom team is crammed with players who have enjoyed a tremendous year, there are a few who stand out from the crowd. On-loan Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku’s goals added fuel to their upwards drive while the likes of Billy Jones, Jonas Olsson, Ben Foster and Marc-Antoine Fortune also stood out with a plethora of sterling performances throughout the season.
Although one area where the season gets tough for all clubs got especially tricky for Clarke and his men – the January transfer window and the saga that surrounded previous club hero Peter Odemwingie. The Nigeria international gave his manager a headache when a misheard rumour, on his part saw him travel to Queens Park Rangers on deadline day to finalise a deal that never existed.
After some red faces on both sides of the fence, and a hefty ban for the striker, he was welcomed back into the dressing room to the sight of a QPR shirt hanging from his locker with his name and number on the back – paid for and placed there by his Baggies teammates.
This transfer farce seemed to affect their confidence on the pitch as West Brom only managed four league wins after the turn of the year, compared to the 11 they had notched previously. This dreadful run of form in 2013 hampered their progress and the Baggies fell an agonising one point short of the illustrious 50 point mark.
However, there were high points galore for the Hawthorns outfit, with Belgian striker Lukaku and his 17 goals from 22 appearances not least of those.
But the main reason for optimism amongst the plastic seats at the Hawthorns will be the grit and determination that seems to come hand-in-hand with any team Steve Clarke is involved with.
Performances such as the home win against Chelsea, a 2-0 success at Anfield and last, but by no means least, a 5-5 draw in the final game of the season at home to Manchester United on Sir Alex Ferguson’s final day in charge, showed that they may just have turned a corner under the enigmatic Scot.
West Brom will be looking to continue their growth from notorious yo-yo club to top ten contenders next season and, with Clarke in charge, few would bet against them.
Manager – Steve Clarke: Clarke has proved that biding your time and gathering knowledge as an understudy does pay off and his knowledge of the game is now finally benefiting a team who needed it most. It is also good to see another British manager earning his stripes.
Player of the season – Romelu Lukaku: The formidable Belgian on loan from Chelsea has show that he is well on the way to becoming a world class striker. He has proven that he can score goals in the Premier League and, from a Chelsea point of view, could be a ready-made replacement for the severely missed Didier Drogba.
Turning point of the season – the signing of Lukaku: Many people may dispute this being a turning point of the season, with Lukaku signing at the start of the season. However if a club or a manager can bring in a player who can score 17 goals, a season of success will never be far away. His parent club may even look for another loan spell to prove to themselves, more than anyone, that the Belgian is not just a flash in the pan.
Any other business: West Brom have had a stellar season but where they go in the future will very much depend on the vitally important summer months, with plenty of question still being left unanswered. Will Odemwingie find his way out of the club? Will Chelsea allow a second Lukaku loan? Will the manager be given the cash to build further? And more importantly, can Clarke do it again?
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG