Kevin Phillips on WBA v Villa, Bilic, Allardyce, relegation and more
West Brom’s season took a turn in midweek, sacking Slaven Bilic and installing Sam Allardyce in the Croatian’s place.
The move surprised many, especially after Bilic had steered the Baggies’ to a fine 1-1- draw with Man City on Tuesday night.
Next up for the Hawthorns outfit is the visit of Aston Villa, and speaking ahead of his West Brom v Aston Villa Ladbrokes 5-A-Side bet, we grabbed a few exclusive words with ex-Baggies hotshot Kevin Phillips…
On WBA v Aston Villa (score prediction: 1-1)
“It was a massive game for West Brom on Tuesday night heading into Sunday’s local derby. I wouldn’t say they’re heading into it full of confidence by any stretch, but coming away from the Etihad could’ve been a completely different story if Sam Johnstone wasn’t on his game. That doesn’t matter now though; they’ve got the point and no one can take it away from them. They were unlucky against Newcastle.
“I know what it’s like as a player in these situations, and this is where you need your experienced names to step up. Your Jake Livermores and your Branislav Ivanovics are key in the next few days. They need to get hold of the younger players and say “look, whoever comes in, it’s a clean slate. We’re all in this together.”
“The last time these two met was of course that play-off semi-final second leg at The Hawthorns and I was there for it; the atmosphere was unbelievable. I was doing the radio commentary and I had to keep taking off my headphones to take in the noise. It was unbelievable. Having played there myself in a similar fixture in the play-off semi against Wolves, I never thought the atmosphere could get better than that, but I would have to say that night was incredible.
“I think it’ll be a tight game on Sunday. I don’t think there’ll be loads of goals. I think it could go either way, I really do. Douglas Luiz will be a big loss for Aston Villa. He’s been one of their best players so far this season so he’ll be a huge miss.
“No Pereira for Albion isn’t helpful for the hosts. But I see it being very tight. It could be quite end-to-end. It just depends what the tactics are of whoever is appointed for West Brom. Do you just soak up the pressure in your first game in charge and try and hit them on the counter attack? Or do you go all out attacking as the home team against your local rivals off the back of a great result at the Etihad.
“It’s a dangerous game for Villa. Dean Smith will be telling his players to expect a reaction after Bilic leaving. But Villa have shown that they can cope with all sorts this season.
“I’m going to sit on the fence and go 1-1 in this one.”
On West Brom
“I don’t think West Brom have played that bad at all this season. They just haven’t scored goals. Defensively, I think Branislav Ivanovic on paper looked like a great signing, but he’s obviously not the player he used to be at Chelsea. His pace worries me a little bit and I think that was an area of the pitch they could’ve looked at bringing a couple more faces in. They just don’t score enough goals.
“The step-up for Grady Diangana, Matheus Pereira and Filip Krovinovic has just knock them back a little bit. The young lad from Chelsea, Connor Gallagher, has had a very good start.
“I just don’t think Karlan Grant’s history in the Premier League was a strong enough reason to expect him to come in and get 15/20 goals. He’s done most of his business in the Championship. It’s a big step-up for him.
“For any chance of survival, you need a solid platform to build on. Johnstone is a great starting point but it’s hard to build on something when you don’t have stability in your defence. I don’t think Bilic did himself any favours at all by playing Matt Phillips as left-wing-back for the two previous games. I couldn’t get my head around that. He just looked like a fish out of water and I felt sorry for the lad.
“You have to say Slaven was trying everything though, to try and find a formula that worked. Defensively they haven’t found out what works yet, whether it’s a back four, a back six or a back five, he just chopped and changed and that can never be helpful.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Charlie Austin playing a lot more now. He’s very much a Sam Allardyce-type player. He’ll run, he’ll work hard and he’ll cause problems. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if Austin is chucked in from the start this weekend with Big Sam in charge.
“Bilic came out in the summer and said he hadn’t been given the funds he felt he needed to improve the squad, so it wouldn’t surprise me if deep down he knew he was going and decided last night to leave a little statement before he went by bringing on Lee Peltier, a lad who they brought in on a free back in January from Cardiff.
“Bilic didn’t feel like the board had backed him and I’d have to say I agree, and I think the signing of Karlan Grant was an example of a last-minute panic buy.”
On Slaven Bilic
“It’s difficult because I have backed Slaven Bilic over the past few weeks, and after watching the performance against Man City you could see the players really did dig in and it looked very much like they were playing for their manager.
“They were unlucky to lose against Newcastle at the weekend but it’s fine margins in football and it looks like it’ll be Big Sam who gets the job.
“He’s tried to get the team playing football and he has brought in some good players. Unfortunately for him, Matheus Pereira and Grady Diangana just haven’t produced the same quality performances they did last season. It’s obviously tough in the Premier League but I think if you give them a bit more time they will.
“The problem is if you can’t score goals, you’re obviously going to struggle. I thought Karlan Grant was a bit of a panic buy. Is he really going to get you 15 or 20 goals in the Premier League to give you half a chance of staying up? I’m not so sure. But I like Bilic, it’s just an unfortunate situation.
“Generally the Baggies supporters have been pretty good with managers over the years. I think they had a bit of a spell under Tony Pulis where they weren’t too pleased but under Bilic the fans I’ve spoken to seem to have liked him. Again, though, it’s about results. If you’re not getting results for these owners, they don’t mess about.
It just makes me a bit angry. Bilic did so well to get West Brom up. It was the same a couple of years ago with Slavisa Jokanovic. He did a fantastic job of getting Fulham up, then eight games into the season he gets the sack. It’s ruthless, it’s a business and it’s just the way it is. Slaven will know that.
“I covered the game at the weekend against Newcastle and I clocked Bilic at the end of the game talking to his staff. There was just something that felt a bit off, and I’ve been in that situation before. It wouldn’t have surprised me if this would have broke over the weekend after the defeat against Newcastle. The way he was talking to his staff after the game, it just didn’t look right to me.
“Everyone within football knows that decision will have been made way before the Man City game and the board probably will have been talking to people already after the weekend, or maybe even before the weekend. Slaven might have even known, either deep down or he might have been told. It’s no surprise, let’s put it that way.”
On Sam Allardyce
“Well Sam Allardyce has had a break which he probably needed, but he’s obviously ready now to come back and it’ll be a challenge for him at West Brom, that’s for sure. It’ll be interesting to see how the supporters take to him.
“I wouldn’t argue against appointing Big Sam. It is just about staying in the Premier League now. It’s not about bringing someone in to play free-flowing, silky football. It’s about getting results and finding a way to win football matches. Sam has shown time and time again he knows how to do it.
“I wouldn’t have minded seeing Nigel Pearson back at West Brom though, if I’m being honest. I think Nige could have gone in and done a job.
“I don’t know Sam that well. I know Craig Shakespeare who knows him very well and I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have worked with Big Sam. He’ll go in there and it’ll be very matter of fact. You either get on board or you don’t. If you don’t get on board, you’ll be banished from the side. He hasn’t got any time to mess about.
“It’s about finding a way to win football matches. Training might not be what you’re used to. It’ll be about tactics, being hard to beat. A bit like how they were against Man City. I thought they were really disciplined in their work and it looked like they were really working for each other.
“It won’t be the same as what they’re used to. I wouldn’t have thought Sam would come in and bring with him silky football. It might be a case of parking the bus for the rest of the season and trying to nick wins. If that’s how it’s got to be, that’s how it’s got to be. I wouldn’t argue with Sam’s philosophy because I really don’t want to see West Brom go down.
“He’s been out of management for a little while now, but he won’t have just been sitting around doing nothing. He’ll have spent time watching different teams and certain players in Europe and working on improving himself and making sure he’s ready for his next job.
“Ultimately though, Sam’s blueprint is keeping clubs in the Premier League, and he’s got plenty of history doing that. That’ll be spelt out to him straight away; the only reason you’re being brought in here is to keep us in the Premier League.”
On relegation predictions
“I think money needs to be available for a West Brom manager in January. They need to bring in more Premier League experience and plug some holes throughout the team. If they can bring in another striker to go and get 10 goals in the second half of the season then they’ve got half a chance.
“The big thing for me is that West Brom aren’t cut adrift. The point away at the Etihad last night will give the whole squad a big lift. Sunday’s game against Aston Villa is huge. If they were to get a result of some sort against their local rivals – I know football very well – all of a sudden you’re on the up again with a new manager and a team spirit back on the mend.
“Do I think West Brom have got enough? Yeah. When you look at some of the sides around them at the moment, it’ll obviously be very close. But if they can add another goalscorer in the January transfer window it would obviously be a massive help to them.”