Eye On The Opposition: West Brom vs Crystal Palace (4/3/2017)

Written by Jack Pierce

Stoke in the sleet wasn’t enough for me; I couldn’t resist the lure of tropical Smethwick in early March. I believe it’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
An early start and late arrival at home for me will hopefully be rewarded by at least a point as Palace hope to build on last week’s vital win at home to the hapless Middlesbrough.

West Brom, in their own backyard, won’t be an easy trip, mind you. Currently 8th, and comfortably so, and in decent form (unbeaten in five) coming into this one, a point here for our lot will have to be well earned and be would have to be well deserved.

This season may prove to be West Brom’s finest since the formation of the Premier League and the world how we know it today and a lot of the credit for that would be due to Ton… Tony Pu… Tony Pulis; sorry, struggled to get it out but there it is. To lead West Brom to the sort of league position they are anticipated to secure by the end of the season is no mean feat and if he didn’t have the history with Palace that he does, I dare say a few more Palace fans would be willing to praise the capped one than currently do.

As football punditry’s Galileo, Paul Merson, put it, “West Brom are 8th and if you took away the top seven, they’d be top.” Not only does it beg the question of why any of us actually pay for Sky Sports any more but also ‘Are West Brom one of the best of the rest?’. If you compared our squad with theirs at the start of the season, the optimistic among us might have been hoping that we were eighth come the start of March and Pulis’ lot were struggling at the wrong end of the division but it’s not and the impressive unit that Pulis has put together is a huge reason behind how he’s been able to make his side so consistent.

Ben Foster, Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher and James Morrison, while not the most highly rated players in the league, are such consistent figures for Pulis that he wasn’t required to go shopping in January like we were. One man who is part of that impressive unit and enjoying the season of his career is centre half, Gareth McAuley, and not necessarily because of his good form in his own position.

The Northern Irishman is The Baggies’ joint top goalscorer, alongside Salomon Rondon, having scored seven league goals. His threat from set pieces is now renowned and Sam Allardyce is certain to have put some plans in place to combat the threat that McAuley poses. That said and, most likely, done, with Wayne Hennessey hesitant, to put it mildly, when it comes to commanding his box, Pulis and his staff will have identified their corners and free kicks from wide positions as a prime opportunity to threaten our goal. It’ll be nervy times for those supporting the red and blue each time The Baggies win a set piece in areas where getting the ball on McAuley’s head is possible.

There was mention of Tony Pulis earlier on but the story that emerged this week that Pulis hasn’t yet paid a penny of the money he was ordered to pay Crystal Palace following his acrimonious departure from Selhurst Park in 2014 was a fine hand played by the club. I refuse to believe that the story didn’t unveil itself and its leak was beautifully timed by whoever did that. *Cough* Steve Parish *Cough*.

Whatever the score on Saturday, those Palace fans going will be sure to offer the opposing manager lots of grief so win, lose or draw, there are joys to be had for the travelling faithful.

That said, a point or three really would be a little more meaningful.