Steve Bruce admitted West Brom “were nowhere near where we should be” after Wednesday’s Midlands derby defeat to Birmingham City at The Hawthorns. Well at least we can all agree on something. I would add that Steve Bruce should be nowhere near West Brom.
“Individual error is something you can’t fix,” he moaned. Yes you can, if players are given clear direction on the playing style and ethos of the football club.
I don’t know what West Brom are anymore.
Over the years, we have seen it all: Gary Megson’s clean-sheet-hungry grinders (we got 27 in one season with Russell Hoult between the sticks), Tony Mowbray’s tippy-tappy free-flowers and Valerien Ismael’s front-foot, high-press hounders.
Ismael was sacked too early after a few ropey results, as was Slaven Bilic, but Bruce is still in the hot-seat, much to the dismay of most Albion supporters who have now had enough.
When the 61-year-old was named as Ismael’s successor in February, there was an Alan Partridge-esque shoulder shrug from both fans and players, who talked up the appointment but clearly felt as underwhelmed as the majority of supporters.
Sky Sports pundits rolled out the tired cliche of him having a ‘great record of getting teams promoted to the top flight’. Yes, he twice led Birmingham and Hull City back into the Premier League, but the last of those promotions came six years ago and that’s a long time in football.
The game has moved on and Bruce has not. While Taylor Gardner-Hickman checks TikTok, Bruce is more likely to be watching Time Team repeats.
The players looked unfit against Birmingham and clueless on the ball. The 4-2-3-1 formation has been designed to get the best out of summer arrivals Jed Wallace and John Swift, who must be wondering what they have walked into.
In 26 league games, Bruce has amassed 31 points from seven wins, 10 draws and nine defeats.
Albion didn’t even get the new manager ‘bounce’ from his appointment. Bruce’s first game was a 2-0 defeat at Sheffield United, which is nothing to be ashamed of – tough place to go is Bramall Lane. But a home draw with Blackburn was followed by three defeats on the spin, his first win coming away at Hull City.
Albion finished the season with five more wins, three draws and three defeats to finish in 10th place, eight points off the play-offs.
But at no point have Bruce’s Albion got fans off their feet, despite having Grady Diangana, Swift, Wallace and Karlan Grant in their ranks.
Kyle Bartley is a towering centre-back and has been a commanding presence in the backline since joining the club, but under Bruce he is a dithering defender devoid of all confidence, getting 2/10 in the Express & Star ratings for a horror show against hat-trick hero Scott Hogan.
Bruce’s name and reputation attracts players who want to play for him – but it seems the harsh reality of that is not as alluring as it seems.
“The disappointing thing for me was that we didn’t do any basics well enough, we didn’t compete well enough, we didn’t do enough to influence the game,” said Bruce in the aftermath of the Blues defeat.
That’s your job fella. You are basically saying you are not doing your job.
Bruce’s backroom staff of James Morrison, Stephen Clemence, Steve Agnew, Gary Walsh and son Alex Bruce will be the ones putting the players through their paces in training – but the manager sets the tone, the standard, the brand of football, and it’s time for Albion to get someone young and hungry into the hot-seat.
Sadly there’s not a long list of contenders if Albion do sack Bruce (which they surely will when we lose away at Norwich City on Saturday).
I’ve always liked the idea of Derek McInnes returning to The Hawthorns as manager after serving the club with passion, grit and determination during his fine playing career. But all of a sudden he is 51, so perhaps that ship has sailed.
Burnley are being rewarded for taking a punt on Vincent Kompany and he certainly fits the bill for the sort of appointment Albion need to make when they dispense of Bruce’s services.
The players need a manager younger than their grandads if West Brom are to rejuvenate their season and get a push for the play-off places back on track.