We continued our disappointing and unlucky start to the season on Sunday with a 1-0 defeat at home to Stoke City, who this time had a combination of Ben Foster, Gabriel Tamas and a poor refereeing decision to thank for allowing them to continue their brilliant record against us.
The game had 0-0 written all over it, until Ryan Shotton got between Foster and Tamas to latch onto a long ball and poke the ball into the empty Smethwick End net. Replays on MOTD2 later that evening proved that, as Roy Hodgson had suggested after the game, Foster did have both hands on the ball and so a free-kick should have been given.
Despite this, we should never have let the ball get that far, with Tamas having a responsibility to clear the ball and Foster having a responsibility to gather once he raced off his line.
Overall though, this was definitely our flattest performance of the season. For much of the game, we resorted to playing diagonal long balls towards Shane Long, who was realistically never going to win any headers against the likes of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth. Having two weeks to wait due to internationals after such a dire performance is not ideal, but we have to hope that Hodgson can work with the players and turn things around, even though two of our performances were very impressive.
After the Stoke game, many peoples’ attentions turned to the last few days of the transfer window. Would we strengthen our squad defensively? Would Jeremy Peace make more money available to the best manager we have had in recent years? Unfortunately, the answer to both of these questions is ‘no’.
Amongst all the negative views of Albion fans since the transfer window closed, people have to remember that we have strengthened in most areas of the squad.
Our goalkeeping department is far better now than it was at the end of last season, with Ben Foster and Marton Fulop replacing Scott Carson and Boaz Myhill in the squad. Until his error against Stoke, Foster had been faultless this season and will undoubtedly prove to be a particularly good signing.
In midfield, the main thing is that we have not lost any of our key players. We have also replaced the released Giles Barnes with returning fans favourite Zoltan Gera, who is an improvement on Barnes. Signing Gera on a free transfer is a great bit of business by the club, especially seeing as we were not the only club interested in him.
Up front, we have signed Shane Long, who has been something of a revelation so far. His goals against Manchester United and Chelsea were very well-taken, with his work-rate seeing him become a firm favourite with the Albion faithful. Due to a couple of injuries, he has been unable to partner Peter Odemwingie thus far, and has instead partnered Somen Tchoyi, who has also impressed during the opening three games of the season.
However, it is in defence where there appears to be a worrying lack of options. We have signed Billy Jones and Gareth McAuley this summer, with Craig Dawson returning from a season-long loan deal at Rochdale. All of these players have done well in the lower leagues, but there is no guarantee they will be able to make the same impact in the Premier League.
It was the opinion of almost every Albion fan that we needed to sign another defender, even if only on loan. For whatever reason, we were unable to do this and instead sold Marek Cech and Pablo Ibanez to Trabzonspor and Birmingham City respectively, whilst young right-back James Hurst has been sent to Blackpool on a season-long loan, although we can re-call him after 28 days.
This means that we are arguably weaker defensively, especially after the departure of Cech. If Nicky Shorey picks up an injury, we may well end up seeing Joe Mattock at left-back in the Premier League, which is far beyond what he has shown himself to be capable of.
Lack of experience
The same problem exists if Jonas Olsson gets injured, as we could end up with two centre-back’s who have not made a single Premier League appearance between them, or end up playing two players at the heart of our defence who simply do not have the pace to cope with the majority of strikers in the Premier League.
We still have Tamas, but this is a player who was not deemed good enough by Hodgson last season to even get into the side ahead of Abdoulaye Meite. This either suggests a dramatic improvement in Tamas or, perhaps more likely, the fact that Hodgson has no other option at this moment in time.
I normally defend Jeremy Peace for the prudent way in which he runs the club, but even I acknowledge now that he appears to be showing a lack of ambition. When you see the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Stoke City strengthening so significantly on deadline day, it makes you wonder why we weren’t doing the same.
All we needed was one defender after signing Long three weeks ago, so whoever made the decision to wait until the last couple of days of the transfer window before really trying to sign one took a massive risk.
However, that risk is nothing compared to the one we have taken by actually not signing a defender. All it takes is a couple of injuries and we will have one of the weakest squads in this league, when we could have been trying to push on from last season if we had made just one loan signing to improve our defence.
The defenders we have signed might come good, but it is a massive gamble, and one I really hope pays off. If it doesn’t, we could be in for a long, hard season.
Do you think Albion should've brought in another defender? Or are you happy with the reinforcements Hodgson has? Have your say at Baggies Banter here.