Will West Brom’s ex-Man Utd spine be a success after Evans swoop?
“If we can do the business we’re trying to do, we’ll surprise people.”
And with the signing of a fifth international footballer this summer in Northern Ireland’s Jonny Evans, West Bromwich Albion boss Tony Pulis may have lived up to those words.
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBAFCofficial) August 29, 2015
Virtually assured of survival as they have a head coach who has never been relegated, Coral make the Baggies 7/2 chances to kick on and finish in the top 10.
If such ambition – undoubtedly still an aim of ruthless chairman Jeremy Peace even if he has tried to sell the West Midlands outfit – is to be met, then Albion need their new faces to perform.
Steering West Brom away from perpetual struggles is as much a charge of attacking additions Serge Ganbry (on loan), Rickie Lambert, James McClean and Jose Salomon Rondon as for defensive duo James Chester and Evans. And it’s on this potential new centre back pairing that focus shall soon sharpen.
Much has previously been made of an ageing Baggies defence; long-serving Jonas Olsson joins Gareth McAuley and Joleon Lescott as 30-somethings that look past their peak.
Substantial speculation surrounding Chelsea captain John Terry and his first-team future has ensured how old you are is once again a hot topic within the footballing community.
No ageism is proferred here, but only the fact that 35-year-old McAuley, Lescott (33) and Olsson (32) were options at centre half during the Baggies’ latest brush with relegation. Whatever qualities experienced seasoned players like these bring, Pulis has decided defence is an area of weakness.
In 26-year-old Wales international Chester and Evans, he has brought younger legs into The Hawthorns’ rearguard. Both men share the same beginnings as professionals in Manchester United’s academy, though took very different paths thereafter.
While Evans made the grade at Old Trafford, Chester had to take the road to Hull, earn Premier League promotion and then swiftly establish himself as someone essential to Chris Coleman’s campaign to take the Dragons to Euro 2016. Wales are 11/10 to top their qualifying group.
Man Utd connections do not stop there, though. Albion captain Darren Fletcher, signed for free by Pulis in January, and currently injured number one Ben Foster also spent plenty of time on the Red Devils’ books.
What West Brom appear to be attempting is to field a solid spine schooled and steeped in the traditions of a club that has a winning mentality. Will it work? Well it didn’t for Chester’s former team last term.
Steve Bruce often played with three centre halves and wing backs during Hull’s latest Premier League stint. Son Alex was a junior with United and joined another off the Old Trafford conveyer belt in Paul McShane on the fringes, but Chester and left-footer Robbie Brady were both KC Stadium regulars.
The Tigers were relegated, and all but Bruce junior ply their trade elsewhere now. That begs the questions, then, are we seeing a gamble from supposedly conservative coach Pulis?
His way of revolutionising West Brom’s defence has involved signing a player that failed to keep his old side in the Premier League in Chester, and another in Evans who only averaged appearing in half the games of his seven first-team seasons at Man Utd.
Pulis insisted, however: “This is a great signing for the club. Jonny brings a lot of experience and will be a big player for us. He’s a player I’ve been watching for some time. We are delighted to have him on board.”
If he can stay fit and free of suspensions, then Evans certainly has the potential to be all his new boss hopes and more. The Hawthorns makes for very different surroundings, though, and how he gets on being the Baggies’ defensive lynchpin will do much to shape their destiny and bid for that top half finish.