There seems to be a rather unnecessary amount of negativity among Albion fans at the moment. I acknowledge that we have had a disappointing start to the season, but some of the talk about wanting Roy Hodgson sacked is almost laughable.
This kind of pessimism increased after a rather dull 0-0 draw at home to Fulham on Saturday, who were missing three of their key attacking players in Damien Duff, Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora.
Our first-half performance was almost as poor as the Swansea City debacle of a week ago, with some of the players not seeming to know where on the pitch they were meant to be playing.
The booing from all four stands of The Hawthorns at half-time left the players and Hodgson with a real understanding of just how frustrated the supporters were getting with how we were playing, especially seeing as Fulham had enjoyed around 60% of the possession during the first 45 minutes.
Signs of optimism
The second half was a marked improvement on the first, although we were still unable to find a breakthrough past a solid Fulham defensive unit and when that was breached, the right-hand post of the Brummie Road goal. Our best opportunity of the second half fell to Peter Odemwingie, who shot straight at Mark Schwarzer when clean through on goal, following an excellent through-ball from Youssouf Mulumbu.
The main positive to come from another slightly subdued Albion display was the performance of Premier League debutant Gareth McAuley, who replaced Craig Dawson in the side. McAuley received the Man of the Match award and produced a faultless display at the heart of our defence alongside Jonas Olsson, with him and Youssouf Mulumbu being the only other players to produce notable performances.
Three days before the Fulham game, we crashed out of the Carling Cup after suffering a 2-1 defeat at Goodison Park against Everton. Hodgson described the side he put out for that game as “experimental” and it sounds as though they performed reasonably well, before conceding an equaliser after 89 minutes and losing the match with a goal just before half-time in extra-time from Phil Neville.
I don’t think many Albion fans will be too disappointed at being knocked out of the Carling Cup, although it would have been good to try and get the winning feeling back in the squad if possible.
The tinker man
The main talking point over the last week or so has been about what formation Hodgson should play. We have started the season in a conventional 4-4-2, which saw us produce very impressive performances against Manchester United and Chelsea during the opening two games of the season.
Since then, however, it has yielded only one win from three more realistically winnable games, with our performance in each of those games being somewhat below-par.
For the first time this season in the Premier League this season against Fulham, Hodgson decided to play a 4-3-2-1 formation, which essentially became a 4-3-3 when we were in possession. Unfortunately, the performances of several of the players suggested that they were not at all comfortable in this system and were unsure about exactly where they were meant to be playing.
This led to us reverting back to 4-4-2 in the second half and playing much better, which must be incredibly frustrating for Hodgson after watching the players struggle in that system throughout the previous three games.
The question now must be which formation is best? I get the impression that Hodgson prefers to play 4-4-2 when possible, but the change of formation for the Fulham game suggests that he acknowledges just how poor our performance was whilst playing that system at Swansea City.
I personally don’t think there is a way we can accommodate all of our quality attacking midfield players in the side if we play 4-4-2, whereas we could probably get far closer to doing so if we played a 4-5-1 or some variation of that as we did last season.
With this in mind, I would like to see us line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as we did towards the end of last season. This would probably mean a re-call for Paul Scharner, who has started the season very poorly. However, I believe this is because he does not have the mobility to play as a box-to-box central midfielder in a conventional 4-4-2 formation, whereas he could comfortably play as one of the two midfielders sitting in front of the back four in a 4-2-3-1.
The black cats
This weekend sees us make the trip to Sunderland, who have had a slow start to the season themselves so far. Their result and poor performance at Norwich City on Monday has led to questions again being asked of Steve Bruce, which will add an extra edge to the game on Saturday.
This is our last match before a two-week break due to yet more international fixtures. After this break, we face arguably two of our biggest matches of the season, with a home game against Wolves before a trip to Aston Villa.
It would be good to go into the international break and the forthcoming derby fixtures with a bit more optimism, so hopefully we can play well on Saturday and get a positive result to help end some of the unnecessary criticism from Albion fans at the moment.
What side would you chose to face Sunderland? Have your say here at Baggies Banter.