Darren Moore Fallout: Is Slavisa Jokanovic the right man for the West Brom job?

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 12 March 2019, 09:34

Darren Moore leaves West Bromwich Albion in a better position than the one he found it in.

Through his personable handling of the media, his community-centred mentality and his team ethos, he built bridges between club and fans – and that was a very important step to getting the club back on an upward trajectory.

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He gave a club destined for doom, if not the slightest hope of staying up, then at least an enjoyable end to the campaign with victories over Manchester United and Tottenham.

It should not be ignored, too, that after an uncertain summer, Moore has delivered a competitive promotion challenge with his side fourth in mid-March, very likely to secure a top six berth.

For all those things, Moore deserves eternal credit – and no doubt he will rightly get a warm reception any time he returns to the Hawthorns.

However, there is also reason to think that the Albion board have made a difficult but ultimately correct decision.

Firstly, it is important to recognize that he was not given the manager’s job in the traditional way.

The board acknowledged the impact he had at the end of last season and wanted to reward him for that whilst having a figurehead to galvanize the fanbase during a challenging 2018-19 campaign.

There might have been an element of fear too, that had they not handed Moore the permanent gig – and results subsequently gone badly – they would have faced criticism for trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.

Those reasons are understandable in some ways, but they are also slightly flawed.

 

The club had not cherry-picked Moore from a wide range of candidates because the style of play he encourages and the transfer policy he promotes is specifically in line with the strategic direction they want to go in.

It is possible that the club felt obligated, rather than excited, to appoint Moore.

Plus, although on the surface results under the former centre-back have gone reasonably well, the manner of those results do not imply sustainability.

There were several away games in the first half of the campaign – Forest, Birmingham, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United to name four – where they were slightly fortunate to avoid defeat.

They had been on the back-foot for much of those encounters, but once they threw caution to the wind, they came alive for brief periods and, in Jay Rodriguez, Dwight Gayle and Harvey Barnes, had players with the individual quality to make their better spells count.

Rodriguez, Gayle and Barnes, along with Matt Phillips, a key influence with driving runs down the right, is a Premier League-level attacking quartet.

That meant the fact West Brom spent only 27% of their games in the final third – 15 Championship teams have spent more time in that part of the pitch this season - was made up for by their productivity in those advanced areas.

There have always been question marks about the tactical balance of this Albion side and Moore has at times shown an element of naivety.

For example, he has often shoehorned Dwight Gayle and Hal Robson-Kanu wide in a front-three which is clearly not their strongest positions.

Firstly, neither have the awareness to track back nor the inclination to involve themselves in general play.

The best wide forwards in the Championship take a lot of touches: Norwich’s Emi Buendia, for example, averages 50.2 per 90 minutes, whereas Gayle and Robson Kanu average 37.3 touches per 90 combined, which shows they do not contribute enough to West Brom’s work in the middle third.

Moore has used Jay Rodriguez as a false nine and, although the former Burnley man has scored 17 goals, the work he has done for the team aside from goals is nowhere near in line with what, for example, Teemu Pukki or Kemar Roofe have done in similar roles for Norwich and Leeds respectively.

 

Barnes’ January exit for Leicester can be a partially valid excuse for West Brom’s struggles – because his individual brilliance drastically changed a significant number of games – but it is not as if Moore was not backed in the January transfer window.

Stefan Johansen was key to Fulham’s promotion last season, winger Jacob Murphy is a top six-level performer at this level and Jefferson Montero, yet to hit 30, has played in two World Cups for Ecuador.

A lot of good coaches might have managed the mini-transition of Barnes leaving better than Moore has.

When was the last time the Baggies truly controlled a game?

Their last win was 3-2 at QPR, where they needed a 94th-minute winner – albeit with Moore deserving credit for the introductions of Phillips and Rekeem Harper.

Before that, they won at Stoke and Villa by scoring from three of their five shots on target with clinical finishing and solid defending from Craig Dawson and Ahmed Hegazi being key to those triumphs.

Boxing Day’s 2-0 home win over lowly Wigan was relatively comfortable in the final 20 minutes – but even then one could argue that was an even game decided by two moments of potency from Jay Rodriguez.

Alternatively, the last dominant display might even have been before Christmas in the demolition at Rotherham – and there were even people at that match saying it was not necessarily a 4-0 game with the hosts having 19 shots.

If we look at how reliable Norwich have been since Autumn with a far less expensively-assembled squad, or how consistently bottom half-budgeted Sheffield United implement their game plan, one could forgive the Albion board for feeling slightly short-changed.

Who could replace Moore?

The alternative to Darren Moore could be Slavisa Jokanovic, who is odds-on favourite at the time of writing and has far more credentials.

 

Firstly, he has won promotions with Watford in 2014-15 and Fulham in 2017-18, inspiring excellent Spring form in both of those campaigns.

Secondly, he has an element of mental toughness about him that has allowed him to achieve success despite criticism.

Jokanovic oversaw four consecutive defeats early in his reign with the Hornets and still led them to a top two spot, adding grit to guile.

Then, his Fulham side were as low as 17th in early November in the promotion season, when many fans called for either the Serbian to leave or for him to alter the short passing style he had implemented.

Instead, ‘Slav’ stuck to his approach and, thanks to the additions of Matt Targett and Aleksandar Mitrovic, led them up via the play-offs.

Jokanovic has not only the tactical acumen to give this squad, jam-packed with quality, a clear vision of how to play, he also has the stubbornness to enforce that vision, even if it means leaving out big players – he has been firm but fair with the likes of Diego Fabbrini, Fernando Forestieri and Chris Martin at previous clubs.

If West Brom act quickly and get Jokanovic in, they will massively improve their promotion chances and this tough decision will be vindicated.

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Laurent Banide
Laurent Banide
(Oldham Athletic)
19th September
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