With a 4-2 win over Sunderland on Saturday, little West Bromwich Albion F.C. moved into third place on the table – just four points out of first.
We’re a third of the way through the campaign, people, and West Brom are looking less and less like a fluke every week. This team has eight wins – only league leading Manchester United have more.
We’re talking about a team that has spent the vast majority of the past two decades in lower-division football. A club which won its last major trophy, an FA Cup, 44 years ago. A club whose last top flight championship is about to celebrate its centennial.
We’re talking about a team that’s good. A team that’s consistent. A team that’s already proven it can hang with the big boys.
We’re talking about a squad that’s come out of nowhere. A squad with the unique combination of youth, experience, and depth. A squad who shares the load.
So, how are they doing it? Let’s explore West Brom’s early season success – in cliché:
Defense wins championships.
The Baggies have a big, physical back three willing and capable to take on any attacking force in the Premiership. 6’4″ Jonas Olsson and 6’5″ Gareth McAuley are one of the largest central defending combinations in England, and fullback Liam Ridgewell, typically a central defender by trade, has locked down West Brom’s left flank. They’re not particularly flashy and won’t provide a lot in attack, but they make goalkeeper Ben Foster’s time between the sticks more comfortable than the average Premier League defense.
This keeper is world class.
Speaking of Foster, the man is the definition of a stone wall. Physically he’s everything you want in a keeper: good size, quick lateral movement, strong hands, and good catching ability. Only three clubs have given up fewer goals than West Brom’s 15 – Chelsea and Arsenal with 13, and Manchester City with 10. The aforementioned defenders don’t allow many shots to reach Foster, but on those rare occasions that a ball squeaks through, the Baggies stalwart netminder is there to clean things up.
There’s no I in team.
Talk about an attacking force that shares the load.. It wasn’t until West Brom’s fifth match that an Albion got his name on the score sheet a second time, and only once in 13 Premier League matches has the same player scored twice in a game. Five players have three goals or more: Zoltan Gera (3), James Morrison (3), Peter Odemwingie (4), Romelu Lukaku (4), and Shane Long (5).
Make your home a fortress.
It’s a cliché for a reason, and the Baggies have dropped just one match at home this season: a 2-1 thriller against Manchester City. Only five of their 15 goals allowed have come at the Hawthorns.
The game isn’t played on paper.
They don’t have the household names of the big clubs fighting for a top four finish, or in Liverpool’s case a top 10. On paper West Brom don’t take three points from Chelsea, Liverpool or Everton; they don’t take a point home from White Hart Lane. Their squad has a favorable mixture of youth and experience – midfielders Youssuf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob, along with forwards Lukaku and Long, are all under the age of 26. But no matter their age or position, the one thing these lesser known surnames have in common with the Rooneys, Hazards, Silvas and Terrys of the world is production.
Can West Brom sustain their early success for the remainder of the season? From what I’ve seen thus far, they certainly have the ability to remain in the mix. Don’t expect WBA to make any kind of splash in the January transfer window, but don’t expect them to be sellers either. For the first time in a very long time, the club has optimism coursing through the pitch and front office alike. The first third of the 2012/13 campaign has given Albion supporters everywhere legitimate hope for a Champion’s League berth. But.. you know what they say:
It’s the hope that kills you.