Image Credit: [The Independent]
As West Bromwich Albion sacked Darren Moore following a 1-1 draw with Championship basement club Ipswich Town, it sent shockwaves throughout the footballing world. The Baggies were lying in fourth place, and, whilst it looked that the automatic promotion spaces were out of the reach, this was a team that seemed well placed to challenge for an immediate return to the top flight in the Championship Play-Offs.
Despite Moore’s brutal sacking, which has split The Albion fanbase, if you look beneath the surface and speak to West Brom fans and experts, it was a culmination of a number of problems which began to develop at The Hawthorns.
Firstly, it was clear to see that the West Brom board had started to panic about the potential costs of failing to get promoted this season. The best chance for a club to go back up to the Premier League is in their first season after relegation. This has been evidenced by the slow decline of Albion’s opponents on this fateful day, Ipswich Town, who look set to end their 16 year stay in England’s second tier. Similar former Premier League clubs such as QPR, Hull City and Birmingham have continued to languish since their respective relegations. These fears from the board are not only financial; Albion’s have received £41.5 million in parachute payments this season following relegation, but next season this will decrease to £34 million and £15 million the year after, exemplifying the financial importance of a quick return. This decreased income, coupled with owner Guochuan Lai’s refusal to invest into the club, means that West Brom would likely lose many of their key players such as Matt Phillips and Jay Rodriguez amongst others, making it harder to achieve promotion in future years. This is combined with the fact that West Brom currently have six loan players who would be expected to return to their parent clubs.
Moreover, despite The Albion lying in fourth place, Moore’s side had been in poor form since the turn of the year, having picked up just four wins in 11, and not having won at home since Boxing Day. There were real worries at the club not just about being nine points off the top two, but also about missing out on the play offs with just a seven-point gap to Bristol City who had a game in hand on West Brom. Similarly, despite being the second highest goal scorers in the league, WBA had only scored 13 goals in these past 11 games. This was compared to 21 in the 11 games before that. Merged with a leaky defence which Moore and his coaching staff had failed to shore-up throughout the season, the pressure on the manager was only going to build up. Added to this was the stubborn insistence of the coaching team to “play out from the back” despite this having led to numerous errors throughout the season.
Additionally, it has been argued that The Baggies have the best squad in the league, which, whilst guaranteeing nothing in football, has meant that often West Brom have been saved by individual moments of brilliance. For example, before Christmas, they beat Rotherham 4-0 due to a memorable hattrick from Dwight Gayle, despite Rotherham hitting the woodwork three times along with a penalty miss from The Millers. Added to this has been the poor tactics which Moore has often been criticised for; the continual playing of Gayle on the left-wing, despite being one of the league’s deadliest poachers, enraged many. This came to a head at Leeds away where, despite an impressive Leeds performance, The Baggies were trounced 4-0 with Moore continuing to play three up front without the wingers tracking back and an immobile midfield of Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Rekeem Harper. Albion were constantly overrun by Marcelo Bielsa’s men yet Moore’s refusal to change anything during the game angered The Albion faithful.
First Team Coach James Shan has overseen the past two fixtures, playing a more pragmatic style of football, which has resulted in two wins and two clean sheets over Swansea and Brentford. It seems as if Shan will get the job until the end of the season which has infuriated many West Brom fans, critical of the club not replacing Moore appropriately by giving the job to someone even less experienced. This seems baffling when the club is desperately worried about the costs of not achieving promotion this year and begs the question of why Moore was sacked in the first place.
Overall, whilst Darren Moore’s sacking came as a shock, he will always be thanked and loved as a club legend, not just for healing the divisions that had become so evident during Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew’s reigns, yet, his sacking was perhaps not as harsh as it looked on the surface.