Spurs v West Brom: Bouncing Baggies are on the rise under Roy
Tottenham must become the second team to beat Roy Hodgson’s Baggies as Albion arrive at White Hart Lane today
THE FOOTBALL community was shocked and appalled when Albion announced the sacking of Roberto di Matteo – the man who had taken them up from the Championship to the Premier League.
Harry Redknapp led the criticism, accusing the Baggies of a shameful lack of loyalty – a heartless trend which is becoming all too common in the modern-day game.
Of course, West Brom’s detractors had a point, but two and a half months after Di Matteo’s demise, they may just be eating their words.
While Albion’s lack of loyalty towards the popular Italian was shameful, there is little doubt that the club’s fortunes have improved markedly since he was replaced.
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Di Matteo departed following a run of eight defeats from 10 games, which left them 17th, outside the drop zone on goal difference alone.
Since then, West Brom have embarked upon a seven-match unbeaten run – which only ended against Chelsea on Saturday – and now sit 11th, six points clear of danger.
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Given that Di Matteo was sacked six days after the January transfer window closed, the difference appears to be Roy Hodgson, who has grasped the chance to rebuild his reputation following his ill-fated spell at Liverpool.
Those who have followed the 63-year-old’s career might assume that Albion’s rise up the table has been characterised by a much-improved defence, and a glut of clean sheets.
Not so, in fact. West Brom are yet to earn a shut-out under their new boss, and have conceded 14 goals during his eight games at the helm.
Instead, somewhat surprisingly given Hodgson’s conservative reputation, the improvement has come at the other end of the field.
Albion failed to find the net in five of their last nine games under Di Matteo, but have scored 16 times in eight games since.
The recent unbeaten run included a 2-2 draw with Arsenal and a 2-1 win over Liverpool as Hodgson gained revenge over his former employers at the Hawthorns.
Unfortunately, the Baggies were unable to repeat the feat on Saturday as Chelsea triumphed 3-1 in the Midlands and strengthened their strangle-hold on a top four place.
And that, for Hodgson, was a timely reminder that – despite having 39 points with five games remaining – safety has not yet been assured.
“I’m sure we’ll respond in the next five games. I think there’s enough work ethic, determination and character in this team to get us over the line,” he said.
“This was just a little reminder that we’re not going to sail blissfully over the line. We’re going to have to keep working and fighting and taking the odd setback that comes our way. But I’m sure this group of players will do it for the club.”
Hodgson will certainly hope that the Baggies’ main goal threat, Peter Odemwingie, maintains his form until the very end of the season.
The Nigeria international struck his 12th goal of the campaign against Chelsea, breaking the club record for the most prolific Albion player in a single Premier League season.
“I am very happy about the record. I was delighted to get number 12,” he said at the weekend. “My personal target was 15 so there are three to go.”
Tottenham will hope that the 29-year-old, who is the joint third-highest scorer in the top flight, is still three short of his target on Saturday evening.
However, they will also need to watch out for Chris Brunt, who scored against Spurs in the 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns back in September.
Ex-Wigan man Paul Scharner has also added four goals from midfield and, worryingly for the Lilywhites, they have all come away from home.
The verdict: This is unquestionably a must-win game for Tottenham but a point would certainly do for West Brom – who are much harder to beat under Hodgson.
It all points towards a tight and nervy afternoon at the Lane, but a narrow victory for the hosts.
Prediction: Spurs 2 West Brom 1