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FOOTBALL'S FRONT LINES

West Brom are giving a lesson in the value of minding your own business

Peter Crouch described it as ‘the most ridiculous and needless’ sacking he had ever seen.

Gary Lineker quote-tweeted the announcement with the caption: What????

While Paul Ince said the decision left him ‘livid’ and questioned whether it was corrupted by deep-set racial prejudice.

The outpouring of outrage in the aftermath of Darren Moore’s sacking as West Brom manager was almost universal.

The Baggies were 4th in the Championship at the time and seemingly nailed on for the play-offs.

Seven months on, West Brom are top of the Championship under Slaven Bilic and the decision to part ways with Moore has been entirely justified.

The lesson? Mind your own business.

Harsh… but fair?

PA:Press Association
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Harsh… but fair?

Continuing our Football’s Front Lines series, we went to The Hawthorns as West Brom hosted Charlton to peak inside a club hoping for promotion back to the promised land.

“There was always going to be uproar when Darren Moore was sacked — he’s a club legend,” lifelong fan Chris Woodward told us before kick-off.

“Personally, I thought it was the right decision. We hadn’t won at home in two or three months. Ipswich had just come up to The Hawthorns and they looked like they were the ones going for promotion, not us.”

A 1-1 draw against bottom-side Ipswich proved to be the final nail in Moore’s coffin.

The Tractor Boys – destined for League One – had the majority of possession and unloaded 22 shots on Sam Johnstone’s goal.

The result made it five games without a win at home for West Brom — extending their record to just seven wins in 18 league fixtures at The Hawthorns.

It’s this sustained period of diminished performances that the likes of Crouch, Lineker and Ince failed to consider before casting their judgement.

The league table painted a pretty picture but in reality, West Brom were a team in irreversible decline in the latter half of Moore’s tenure.

Obligatory mention of the boiler mascot

PA:Press Association
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Obligatory mention of the boiler mascot

“We were all disappointed when he [Moore] did get sacked,” admitted Connor Ashfield, the fan behind @ALBIONFANTV.

“He’d been working at the club for years. But you can’t really say anything about the board now because they’ve brought in the right manager.”

Slaven Bilic is the ‘right manager’ in question.

The former West Ham boss was appointed in June, given a two-year contract, and tasked with reinstating the club’s Premier League status.

“Darren Moore didn’t have the experience like Slaven Bilic,” Connor explained.

“There’s been a couple of games this season where we’ve gone in at half time, completely dead and buried, but we come out in the second half – he makes the right substitutes – and we always seem to get a result.”

Table topper

PA:Press Association
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Table topper

Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds are the only team to inflict defeat on Bilic’s troops this season.

With the Championship as tight as ever, the Baggies’ habit of picking up at least one point from a game has earned them a two-point cushion at the top of the table at the time of writing.

Even with a man advantage, Charlton required a controversial stoppage-time penalty to prevent West Brom extending their lead at the top further on Saturday.

The expected downfall in the wake of Moore’s ‘unjust’ departure has not materialised; quite the opposite.

There’s a long way to go, but the bookies have them just behind Leeds as second-favourite to finish top of the pile in May.

Charlie Austin is a new addition

PA:Empics Sport
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Charlie Austin is a new addition

As well as the bold managerial switch-up, the club must be praised for their summer recruitment.

Craig Dawson, Jay Rodriguez and Salomon Rondon were the high-profile departures, fetching nearly £30million between them.

Despite this influx, the club spent their money wisely.

“I think our best signings have been our cheapest ones,” Connor said. “If you look at Semi Ajayi from Rotherham, £1.5m — what an absolute bargain he’s been.”

The 25-year-old centre-back has been a revelation having made the jump up from League One.

Loan signings Matheus Pereira (Sporting CP) and Grady Diangana (West Ham) have provided the invention while Matt Phillips – into his fourth season in the Black Country – leads the way in terms of goals.

“We’ve done fantastic business,” Chris agreed. “We had an ageing squad, they’ve massively invested in bringing the squad age down.”

Mistaken identity

PA:Press Association
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Mistaken identity

19-year-old Nathan Ferguson has impressed in his first season of senior professional football.

The young right-back is already being linked clubs as prestigious as Spurs, Atletico Madrid and Juventus.

Any scouts in attendance on Saturday would have seen him dismissed for a lunge midway through the second half — referee Matthew Donohue mistakenly showed the red card to Diangana before correcting his decision.

However, this setback is unlikely to tarnish his debt season.

“He’s unbelievable, he really is,” Connor confirmed. “I’m not just saying that because he’s here. Genuinely, I can see him being top-level if he carries on playing like he has been.”

Back for good?

PA:Empics Sport
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Back for good?

Perhaps the biggest success story so far this season is the homecoming of Romaine Sawyers.

The Saint Kitts and Nevis international was born in Birmingham and was on West Brom’s books for nine years as a youngster.

He was released on a free in 2013 and joined Dean Smith’s Walsall – where he developed quickly – before following Smith to Brentford.

A languid footballer, he is technically sound, creative and composed.

He used to play as a No10 but has flourished since dropping deeper, where he gives his side control from the base of midfield.

“He’s come back and he’s become a fan favourite straight away,” Connor said.

“I know a lot of Brentford fans were really disappointed when he left — his passing ability, the way he tracks back. He’s a West Brom fan and you can see it.”

A proper English football club

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A proper English football club

The (possibly unfair) question that hangs over West Brom’s promotion charge is: would they not come straight back down?

The club’s last stint in the Premier League lasted eight years but their four promotions and three relegations between 2002 – 2009 earned them a reputation as a ‘yo-yo club’.

Perhaps this lingering caveat also contributed to the club’s harsh appraisal of Moore.

A popular figure, the ex-Baggies defender generated tremendous goodwill when he almost salvaged the wreckage left by Alan Pardew.

And while his seven months at the helm in the Championship could have been interpreted as successful, the club realised his limitations — limitations that would not have been obvious to those poking their nose over the fence.

Moore may well prove himself to be capable long-term manager but the fact remains that the decision many branded ‘a disgrace’ and ‘sickening’ has been proved correct.

Bilic is a coach whose expertise is aligned with the club’s ambition.

The prize for incurring the wrath of football’s backseat drivers with a shrewd decision is ever more likely promotion.

We must acknowledge, sometimes, those closest to an issue know what’s best for the club.

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