Tony Pulis could have been forgiven for having mixed feelings on Saturday evening. True, the West Bromwich Albion boss will have been thrilled to see his team pick up a somewhat unexpected victory at Crystal Palace (Albion failed to win any of their last 9 towards the back end of last season.) Pulis joy at the victory will have been enhanced by the fact it came at the club who he parted ways with less than 48 hours before the start of the 2014/15 season.
Despite the success though, Pulis was hardly in buoyant mood post-match. In the build up to the game, he had made plain his frustration at the club’s lack of activity in the transfer market – Matt Phillips from QPR having been the only significant arrival over the summer. Albion’s transfer plans had been up in the air over the last few months as a result of the takeover of the club, now completed by a Chinese consortium fronted by Guochuan Lai.
Lai was quick to assert that there would be no immediate change to the coaching set up at the Hawthorns, saying:
“I believe that we have a competitive team, with the right management and coaching staff in place.”
Whilst Pulis will have been relieved to hear the latter part of that statement, the first will have raised concerns. The Baggies boss believes his team needs five new signings in order to stay away from trouble this season.
The transfer window remaining open after the campaign has kicked off is a frustrating anomaly, in particular for managers. Pulis had likely identified his preferred targets months ago but his club’s refusal to act swiftly (and West Brom are by no means alone in that regard) has left the squad looking thin as the season gets underway.
Former Blackburn Rovers chief executive John Williams, a highly respected figure in the game, will be charged with getting deals over the line for the Premier League’s only West Midlands representative this season. Williams said last week:
“Realistic targets have been identified and there are funds available.
“We need to get them over the line to ensure Tony has a competitive squad for what is going to be a challenging and demanding campaign.”
Again, the Albion hierarchy are saying the right things, so why the lack of follow up so far?
Perhaps they want to gauge how the team performs over the first few matches. Maybe they are still smarting from Diafra Sakho’s failed medical which caused the cancellation of his proposed move from West Ham. Maybe they are hoping for an influx of funds from a potential sale of Saido Berahino (though with the striker out of contract next summer, Albion will have to be prepared to accept significantly less than Spurs were offering a year ago.)
The other explanation will be the one that troubles Pulis the most – that his position is under review and thus the club are reluctant to loosen the purse strings for a manager who may be on borrowed time.
It is more common than not for new ownership to mean new coaching staff when a club is taken over, whether that happens immediately or after a settling period – of this Pulis will be well aware.
Maybe the key for the Welshman will be to show some attacking intent over the coming weeks. There were signs on Saturday that Berahino and match winner Salomon Rondon could form a useful partnership. Phillips too should provide Albion with a bit more cutting edge in the final third but more backup is needed. Pulis might also have to abandon his favoured defensive line up comprising four centre halves in order to facilitate more attacking football.
Albion have only scored 54 goals in the 57 Premier League matches Pulis has overseen and there were rumblings of discontent amongst the Hawthorns faithful towards the end of last season. Pulis has a reputation as a pragmatist and fire fighter. Despite Saturday’s win, he may well need to show he has other strings to his bow if he is to avoid coming first in this season’s sack race.