West Bromwich Albion: 14th
FA Cup: Round Five
Capital One Cup: Round Three
As is the case for his great friend Sam Allardyce, having Tony Pulis at the helm is a virtually foolproof way of maintaining a club’s Premier League status, and West Brom continue to profit from that. This season they avoided the threat of relegation much more comfortably than they had in the previous two years as they spent long periods battling in mid-table, though never really in with a serious chance of breaking into the top half.
The summer was rather dominated by another transfer saga involving striker Saido Berahino, who made clear his desire to leave and looked on the verge of rebellion before being forced to stay, although his game time was significantly reduced. Tottenham always seemed the side most interested in his services, but once again Albion refused to budge from their valuation.
Aside from the hoo-ha that this created, the club did actually make some ambitious acquisitions including that of technically gifted Zenit St. Petersburg forward Salomon Rondon, who became their record signing. The sizeable former Manchester United contingent was added to by defensive duo James Chester and Jonathan Evans, while winger James McClean returned to the Premier League after two years at Wigan Athletic.
Evans and Rondon became key members of the side, but otherwise most of the team remained the same as Pulis continued to play with no natural full-backs in a first choice back four that included experienced centre halves Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson. A calming influence in midfield was provided by Darren Fletcher and Claudio Yacob, with long-serving pair Chris Brunt and James Morrison continuing to make important contributions.
As ever with Pulis the first thought is to be organised and compact and maintain a defensive shape that is difficult to penetrate, but his tactics backfired on opening weekend as the Baggies were beaten comprehensively by Manchester City, and by the end of September they had conceded three goals in three of their four home outings including a dramatic collapse against Everton where they led 2-0 early in the second half.
Fortunately they had been less charitable on the road, keeping three clean sheets and emerging with maximum points from games at Stoke City and Aston Villa, but the football was rarely free-flowing. The first success at the Hawthorns came in controversial circumstances against Sunderland on October 17 and a week later a Rondon header saw them get the better of Norwich City, lifting them to eighth place.
This suggested already that the club would always have enough about them to keep their heads well above the water, but nothing would be taken for granted until the 40-point mark was reached. The glory provided by a surprise victory over Arsenal did not last long as Albion then went on a five-match winless run during which they were denied by a last-gasp equaliser at Liverpool and lost to a badly out of form Swansea City side on Boxing Day.
The gap above the bottom three was just three points, but fortunately two home wins in the space of five days prevented them from being dragged into the scrap for survival. During January and February the games came thick and fast and wins were scarce, with supporters airing their frustration after the team failed to register a shot on target in a goalless home draw with bottom club Aston Villa.
The FA Cup was also far from straightforward as two Football League clubs drew in the West Midlands to take them to replays, and in the case of League One Peterborough United all the way to penalties. It was in the fifth round where they finally bit off more than they could chew as Reading made a rousing comeback to beat them 3-1, an occasion marred by a post-match incident which saw Brunt hit by a coin thrown from his own section of the crowd.
That result came in the midst of what was probably their best run of the season as they picked up 10 points from a possible 12 in the Premier League to move to within just one of the magic 40. A typically gritty, smash-and-grab showing at Everton was followed by an excellent first half display that saw them beat Crystal Palace, an entertaining draw at leaders Leicester City, and a rare home win over Manchester United.
Rondon was really beginning to show his true class, although he was aided by Stephane Sessegnon, a player who returned from the shadows to become an essential part of the team. The former Sunderland man was on target at Man City, where a strong performance proved in vain, but that result began a poor end to the season which saw them take just three points from the final seven games; hampered slightly by a succession of missed penalties.
A draw with Liverpool on the final day ensured 14th place, which serves as a fair reflection of how they fared and where the club is currently at. Pulis is a canny operator and will always give Albion the best possible chance of staying up, but as things stand it seems unlikely that they can make further inroads up the Premier League table. To do that they need more ambition.