Substance over Style?

West Bromwich Albion have just taken seven points from nine, sit ninth in the table, and have a manager who will keep them in the premier league year in, year out. What’s not to love?

Yes, it’s that age-old debate once again. Do you love Pulis because of his points, or do you despise him because of the way he gets them. Well, on the evidence of this season, there might be a little more to it than that.

Last Monday, West Brom put four unanswered goals past a Burnley side who, to all intents and purposes, looked rather shabby. Earlier in the season, the Albion also scored four at home to West Ham, their other wins coming at Crystal Palace and Leicester (yes, the same Leicester who won the league last season). Yet some sections of the blue and white fan base continue to berate the man who has done that for them.

“Negative football” is one of the most common phrases found among the comments on the club’s official Facebook page, while #pulisout seems to crop up every time the baggies drop points.

Many of the same Albion fans rushed to call for Alan Irvine’s head at the start of the 2014/15 campaign, but now refer to those times as “the good old days”.

Fittingly, the last time Albion beat Burnley 4-0, Irvine was at the helm. Attendances were higher, but that is really one of the only differences between the two performances. Albion’s first two goals came from corners (yes, they did exist before Pulis came to the club), while the other two came on the break. Monday’s victory was a tighter performance, containing a necessarily scrappy period in the second half, which crushed any Burnley resistance.

The point at Hull was an equally impressive performance, and only lacked the clinical edge that the Burnley game so obviously had. Pulis’ fault? I think not. That Craig Dawson failed to capitalise on another great opportunity in the first half, and that Salomon Rondon’s header in the 94th minute bounced agonisingly wide of the post was down to one thing – finishing.

Unless Tony Pulis can be expected to score the goals, create the goals, and make the tackles himself, he deserves a great deal of credit for the way he has set the side up over the past month or so. Playing counter-attacking football is not negative. It is a superb tactic that has been employed by a number of outstanding sides for decades.

When Bayern Munich dismantled Barcelona in 2013, they counter-attacked. Presumably, though, a 7-0 scoreline against the best side in Europe is unacceptable, unless the football is suitably open, and the opposition suitably out-passed.

Dropping the sarcasm briefly, and in all seriousness, Tony Pulis is building his side, and the improvements are plain to see. The Welshman’s first league game in charge was a 1-0 home victory over Hull, and Albion now boast a much stronger side than on that day, and look better for it. The additions of Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher, Salomon Rondon, Matt Phillips, and Nacer Chadli would be the most obvious success stories to point to for Pulis. Add to that Craig Dawson’s conversion to right-back, the encouraging signs from James McClean and Allan Nyom, and it is difficult to argue that his business in the transfer market has been anything but shrewd. The flops that were Rickie Lambert, Callum Mcmanaman and Serge Gnabry can be forgotten when the above names are placed alongside them.

West Brom look more threatening going forward this year than in any other under Pulis thus far, but crucially, look solid at the back for a change. Yes, it’s boring to talk about back fours, and yes, the attackers are generally those who get fans out of their seats, but if we take a step back for a minute, then the positive signs are plain to see.

Slowly, but surely, Tony Pulis is building his own squad at West Bromwich Albion. It has, and is taking time, and by no means are the Baggies there yet. Give him another few years at the helm, and then judge him. If the club have stopped improving, then maybe it will be time to move on. If, however, Albion keep improving at the same rate, while maintaining the same levels of reliability, then the future might be a little brighter than some would lead you to believe.

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