The new English Premier League season is less than a week away, and with West Bromwich Albion opening their campaign at The Hawthorns against champions Manchester United on Sunday (KO 4pm), there are still question marks over the head of last season’s top goal scorer Peter Odemwingie and the futures of several other strikers in the Baggies squad. Speculation is rife that West Brom are about to add Shane Long to their strike force in the next 48 hours to fill the gap.
Although the transfer rumours which were circling the Nigerian front man earlier this summer have died down, ‘Ozaze’ is yet to sign a new contract at the Hawthorns, despite on-going negotiations. This should not be as much of a worry to the Albion faithful as some of the press would have you believe because the African is already tied down for 2 more years with the Baggies.
However, if Odemwingie does stay, whcih looking increasingly likely, will the 30 year old be able to notch up a similar 15 goal tally for the Midlands club hoping to build on last season’s success under Roy Hodgson? There is no doubting his ability to score goals, as last season he scored the most goals a West Brom player has scored in a single Premier League season and won the Premier League player of the month accolade in April.
However, anyone involved in the club may be right to have a few concerns and doubts about goals this season. One immediate concern is the player’s continuing struggle for fitness. Odemwingie missed Albion’s final pre-season fixture against Parma on Sunday due to an ankle injury sustained against Bristol City. Hodgson himself told the club’s official website that although optimistic about his chances of playing against United, he couldn’t put a timescale on the injury.
Another concern is Odemwingie’s potential involvement in the African Cup of Nations in January to February. Any long-term absence of the striker could leave West Brom short of fire power, especially with Ishmail Miller looking to complete a £2 million move to Nottingham Forest, Chris Wood out on Loan at Birmingham City and Roman Bednar available for a move away from the Hawthorns.
This has lead Hodgson to look into alternative options within his squad during the pre-season warm up games. Potential replacements could be winger Somen Tchoyi who started against Parma on Sunday in a striking partnership with Chris Brunt. The unorthodox partnership, however, proved to be fruitless with both players looking very much out of position. Tchoyi looked much more menacing out on the wing and later scored from that position.
Other strikers in the squad include Simon Cox, who continued to develop last season and scored his first Premier League goal against Spurs. He could build on his recent good international form for the Republic of Ireland and will obviously be looking to score more goals this season. Simon Cox’s second half strike partner against Parma was former Celtic and FC Nancy striker Marc-Antoine Fortune. Fortune looked like the most complete forward of the quartet that filled the position for West Brom on Sunday, with good movement and work-rate. But the Striker only managed a disappointing 2 goals in 25 appearances last season and will need to be much more prolific if he is to compete for a starting role.
Hodgson has, however, added Zoltan Gera to the squad. The Hungarian became a fan’s favourite as he played as a midfielder for the Baggies during his successful 4-year spell at the club from 2004. But Gera was also used as a second striker during his time at Fulham and could fit a similar role back at the Hawthorns.
After looking at the limited options available to him, RoyHodgson has made is clear that his is in the market for a new Striker, with Reading’s player of the season, Shane Long seemingly as good as signed. Hodgson has been understood to be an admirer of the Republic of Ireland striker for some time, who finished last season with an impressive 23 goals in the Championship.
Fresh reports are out today that the 24-year-old is on the verge of making a club record £6-7million transfer, becoming the clubs first cash transfer of the summer, smashing the previous club transfer record of £4.7 million for Borja Valero. The 5ft 11 striker is still very much unproven in the Premier League, but has scored 5 goals at that level for Reading.
It remains to be seen whether or not he will repay the biggest layout the club has ever made for a player.
By Matt Priest & Chris Derrer