A season that started with high hopes under Steve Clarke ended with safety but no certainty, writes James Fielden...
Draws, draws and more draws. After finishing the 2012/13 season as the league’s win-or-lose specialists with a league low of seven draws, they finished this one with 15 – four more than the next-commonest score-sharers. Unfortunately, this made victories scarce: no team won fewer games than their seven, and this wasn’t improved by changing the man in charge – new head coach Pepe Mel tasted victory just three times in his 17 league games.
The season had started amid high expectations after Steve Clarke had led them to an eighth-placed finish in 2013. However, the money Clarke spent in the summer didn’t represent good value for a club determined to maximise its resources rather than spend beyond its means.
Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe each cost around £6m but the Beninese playmaker and Scouse target man scored just eight between them in 52 appearances. The loan signings of Scott Sinclair and Goran Popov provided a combined total of less than seven hours. And as for Nicolas Anelka…
Clarke was binned in mid-December after the Baggies had bagged just 31 points from 34 games in 2013. Trouble is, it was nearly a month before Mel arrived and his start – eight winless games – couldn’t really have been much worse. In the end the club’s safety was assured by three narrow wins and an unusually low survival benchmark: their 36-point total would have brought relegation in five of the previous seven seasons.
West Brom may have survived for a fourth top-flight season, but it remains to be seen whether Mel will still be there. There is reported to be a break clause in his contract, and it would be no surprise if chairman Jeremy Peace and technical and sporting director Richard Garlick push the Spaniard back out of the Black Country.
Would they have taken this in August?
No. Despite a worrying tail-off to last season, that eighth-placed finish had Albion fans expecting another relatively comfortable campaign.
Would they have taken this in January?
Absolutely. A minging first half of the season put Albion in the relegation mix and in the end, safety was all that mattered.
Winning at Manchester United, before everybody started doing it. The 2-1 victory was David Moyes’ first home reverse and Albion’s first win at Old Trafford in 16 attempts dating back to 1978.
Losing a 2-0 lead to fierce rivals Aston Villa – not once, but twice. Drawing 2-2 at home and losing 4-3 at Villa Park meant that Albion took just a point from two meetings with their local, and relegation, rivals.
Hero of the season
Saido Berahino. Hero might be a bit OTT given some of his off-field escapades but he's as close as you'll get. Given his chance by Steve Clarke, the England U21 striker didn’t disappoint, scoring nine goals in all competitions, the most memorable being the winner at Old Trafford. He also scored both of Baggies’ only home winners in 2014, against Newcastle and West Ham. The only sour note was being involved in a dressing-room altercation with James Morrison after Baggies threw away the lead against Cardiff, while he could also use some social-media coaching after numerous rogue tweets throughout the campaign.
Villain of the season
Nicolas Anelka. A theoretically decent free signing, went disastrously wrong in practice. The previously free-scoring Frenchman bagged just twice in 12 appearances – and even that went wrong, as his “quenelle” goal celebration caused a storm that dragged on for nearly three months. Eventually the FA banned him for five matches and fined him £80,000 before the club suspended and sacked him.
The season in microcosm
Drawing 3-3 at home to relegated Cardiff after being 2-0 up nine minutes in. Having gone 3-2 up in the 94th minute, Albion contrived to concede again. It was just one of their 15 draws, a result compounded by a classic 'dressing room bust-up' that was subsequently leaked to the media. They went on to surrender a three-goal lead to Tottenham just two weeks later, again in stoppage time.
E. After a term and a half of underachieving, Baggies continue to disappoint.