Whilst the majority of us are back at work wishing that we could relive our Christmas break, West Bromwich Albion fans won’t be looking back at the Christmas period with the same feeling. For the third season in a row West Bromwich Albion found it more difficult than usual to pick up points in the period of December to mid-January. During this ‘bleak midwinter’ period in the past 3 seasons, West Brom have found themselves being lead by 3 different managers each succumbing to the cold snap.
Steve Clarke entered December as Barclay’s Premier League Manager of the Month, a well-deserved award considering Clarke was able to steer the team to 4 wins out 5, only losing to Swansea. Steve Clarke was content, not only with his award, but that after 14 games his West Brom side were sitting in 4th place. Nevertheless, like those before him, current England manager Roy Hodgson and Champions League winner Roberto Di Matteo, he was about to experience the ‘dip’. Despite West Brom’s best-ever Premier League start, Clarke was unable to replicate the form shown at the start of the season, winning only 8 points from a potential 24.
This was just 1 point more than West Brom achieved under Di Matteo in the same 8 game period in the 2010/11 season. Di Matteo found himself on ‘gardeners leave’ just 2 weeks after this period, after only winning once in his last 10 competitive games. His replacement, Hodgson, had better success during this period earning 2 more points and creating a significantly more disciplined defence, reducing the goal difference deficit from -8 to -2.
What does this consistent mid-winter dip in form tell West Bromwich Albion? It is obvious that West Brom are unable to sufficiently cope with tired and injured key squad members, in a period defined by congested fixtures and fatigued players. Hodgson, after experiencing the winter spell for a second season with West Brom, opted to strengthen the team by the purchasing Liam Ridgewell and signing Keith Andrews on a free. With the remaining 17 games of the 2011/12 season, West Brom went on to get 25 more points, moving themselves from 15th to 10th.
The real concern for West Bromwich Albion fans this weekend is how Steve Clarke will deal with 4 back-to-back losses (3 in league and 1 in FA Cup). Can Clarke rally the squad in spite of this, and is the squad strong enough without Mulumbu (International Duty for DR Congo) and Long and Yacob (50/50 doubts)?