Aside from a handful of narrow defeats and a recent thrashing at the hands of Derby, West Brom have started the season very well and are currently the leading scorers in English football. How satisfying has it been to watch, considering the misery of being relegated from the Premier League in May?
Very satisfying. I think the close to three years under Tony Pulis had drained a lot of fans and suffocated the excitement out of the game for a lot of supporters; Alan Pardew came in to try and arrest that slide and just couldn’t. The transition from all-out defence to all-out attack didn’t work for Pardew but Moore struck a nice balance as caretaker at the end of last season and has really got them playing front-foot football this season, really.
He realised from day one that he had to play a different kind of style to succeed in the Championship and they are certainly doing that. I think they still have the mantle as top scorers in English football and there’s never been a dull moment so far, because they can’t keep a clean sheet either. There’s always goals and I think that’s probably why Sky Sports have picked so many of their games for live broadcast.
Given the fact the squad is, for the most part, unchanged from last season, what has been the catalyst for such a dramatic upturn in fortunes?
In the context of the season as a whole, Graeme Jones coming in as Darren’s assistant just before the start of the season was a masterstroke. He’d worked with Belgium at the World Cup, obviously played a part in them finishing third, and has coached Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, who are some of the best players in the world. Bringing him in was a way of adding some authority for Darren; I’m not saying the players wouldn’t have listened to him but someone like Graeme really commands respect. That dynamic between the two of them has really worked well with the players at their disposal.
More recently, they did have a four-game winless run, which is no big problem. It was just a blip, really, but they have responded with three successive wins and they have done that by changing the formation, which has been key to it, while they’ve also changed the style and tried to play more direct, with less passing out from the back. They’ve used a 4-3-3 in the last three games and it’s really working.
What do you think Darren Moore will be looking to add to his squad in January, if anything?
It’s difficult really because, when they were labouring under the old formation, the need for a left-sided centre-back was quite pressing. But now there’s four at the back and Kieran Gibbs is more than able in that left-back position, it doesn’t seem quite so urgent. I still think a left-sided defender would be a priority and maybe a player in the centre of the park who can just add a little bit more energy; they have a number of 30+ years-old midfielders in James Morrison, Chris Brunt and Gareth Barry.
Romaine Sawyers was a player Darren cast an eye over in the summer and was interested in, as he was in Ryan Woods before Stoke signed him. Up front the goals speak volumes and the creativity is there, so those are the two areas I think he’ll look at.
Which Baggies player has impressed you the most so far this season?
I would say it’s a tie between Harvey Barnes – on-loan from Leicester – and Matt Phillips, but I will go with Phillips just because he’s had so many different roles this season: right wing-back, right midfield and now he’s playing more centrally almost on the right side of a midfield three. He’s been outstanding in all of these roles and his form has culminated in a Scotland recall as well. He’s delivered goals, he’s delivered assists – he got two more in the win over Swansea last Wednesday – and I think he’s definitely been Albion’s most influential player.
How is Darren Moore likely to set up his side for Monday night’s game?
I can’t see past 4-3-3 again, to be honest. The front three seems to work - Harvey Barnes has been a little quite in the last couple of games, but you generally can’t keep him down for 90 minutes and that seems to be the rule. I suppose the big call is whether Dwight Gayle will come in for Hal Robson-Kanu, but Robson-Kanu put in such a shift in midweek that I just think it’ll be hard for him to be dropped. I imagine the front three will stay the same: Harvey Barnes, Jay Rodriguez and Hal Robson-Kanu.
What’s your score prediction for the first league meeting between the two sides since 1992?
I do fancy Albion. They’ve been pretty good on their home patch and I know Brentford have had their struggles, so I’ll go 2-1 to Albion.
There will be Pay on the Day at The Hawthorns tonight. Tickets will be available, cash only, from the kiosk next to the away turnstiles block: