Heading into the final stretch of this unrelenting Championship season, West Brom remain within reach of a play-off place, having sat comfortably in the top six for almost the entire campaign. How would you sum up 2019 so far?
It’s been very up and down, really. I think most fans would’ve taken the position they are in now before a ball was kicked, but I think having been in and around the top two for so long, an expectancy has grown, particularly with the amount of goals they’ve scored throughout the campaign, as well. I think Baggies fans would be a touch disappointed if they did miss out on automatic promotion, which does look quite likely now. I think Darren Moore was almost a victim of his own success, really. He raised the expectation levels with a lot of good performances over the season and, I suppose, it was just about managing that, really.
The Baggies ended February with a mini wobble, having suffered defeats to Sheffield United and Leeds, meaning they lost significant ground in the chase for an automatic promotion place. How much of a mental toll will that have taken on the squad, if any?
I suppose it made the team realise they were at a crossroads, because, had they won both of those matches, we’d be talking very differently at this point. With the manner of the defeat at Leeds, that one would have been very hard to take and it’s the sort of defeat that will require a lot of mental strength to recover from. Having the extra day to prepare for the next game certainly helps, though. It’s definitely a fair question, though, because the nature of Leeds’ emphatic victory will have been very tough for the players to take.
Back in January, Leicester recalled Harvey Barnes after the 21-year-old’s impressive loan, in which he scored nine goals in 27 games. How much has his departure affected the Baggies?
Massively, really. I think it’s fair to say any Championship team would miss a player of his quality. I think recently fans have been getting a bit despondent and have voiced their disapproval at the formation, but I think it gets forgotten that Barnes tended to drift in and out of matches; you probably wouldn’t see him for an hour, but then he, very consistently, had a habit of turning in on in 10 or 15-minute spells that could completely change the match. He was never one that was influential during games as a whole and he wasn’t really one for tracking back either, but he did have that flair and that moment of magic in him that Albion have missed. They tried to replace that in January with the signings of Jacob Murphy and Jefferson Montero, but it’s proving a tough act to follow.
Further to that, if you can, could you single out one player who has been the standout performer to this point in the season?
Before his injury, I think I would’ve said Matt Phillips, just because he’s been so flexible this season. He’s played at wing-back, in midfield, wide right, wide left, up front - pretty much every position going in the forward areas. But that has really knocked his progress, really. It’s difficult to pin down one player who has performed well throughout the season, but I’d probably say Gareth Barry, though even he has dipped in the last couple of weeks. Over the course of the season, I’d say Barry, because he’s just turned 38 and has still got a lot of quality and the ability to dictate the tempo of matches when he’s bang on form.
How are West Brom likely to set up his side on Saturday?
The formation has been 4-3-3 since November and certainly was the formation when Brentford were at The Hawthorns, but I imagine it will change in the build-up to the game at Griffin Park – it certainly needs to. They are just in a bit of a transition in that regard, but I think, by then he could be playing 4-4-2, which is what Darren Moore used to great effect during his time as caretaker manager in the Premier League last season.
What’s your score prediction for the Baggies’ first league trip to Griffin Park since October 1991?
Brentford have been going quite well of late, so it’s a very tough one to call. I think Albion probably need the points more so I might just go for a slight revenge score from The Hawthorns, where somehow Brentford escaped with a point! I’ll just go for Albion to edge it 2-1.
*Due to print deadlines for tomorrow's copy of Bees, this interview was conducted prior to Darren Moore's departure from The Hawthorns.
Saturday's clash will be a meeting between two of the Sky Bet Championship's most free-scoring sides. Don't miss out with tickets starting at £25 adults and £8 juniors.