It’s no real secret that West Bromwich Albion are struggling at this moment in time.
In fact, it says a lot when the atmosphere at The Hawthorns feels more tense than at any point during Slavisa Jokanovic’s reign at Sheffield United, because the Serbian’s results at Bramall Lane were poor and he left them in the bottom half of the table following his departure in late November.
The failure to turn draws into wins has become a real source of frustration for fans in the West Midlands despite still being in the play-offs – and they will see some of their recent winless games as a real missed opportunity to get three points on the board and sustain real pressure on the likes of AFC Bournemouth and Fulham.
Quiz: Can you name which club West Brom signed these 20 strikers from?
Blackburn Rovers leapfrogging them in the table in recent weeks has also cranked up the heat on manager Valerien Ismael, with his style of play being the subject of criticism from some fans despite others blaming their inability to be clinical in front of goal as the main reason for their current predicament.
The signing of Daryl Dike, who has arrived at The Hawthorns in a reported £7m move, has gone a long way in improving morale with the United States international thriving under Ismael at Championship rivals Barnsley last term.
Scoring nine goals in 19 league displays for the South Yorkshire side during the second half of the 2020/21 campaign, he may help to solve Albion’s goalscoring woes.
Before then, very little was able to boost the Baggies’ mood, though the emergence of the likes of Taylor Gardner-Hickman, Tom Fellows and Reyes Cleary and three promising youth products provided supporters with a much-needed reason for optimism.
Only the latter has failed to make his first-team debut for the club after impressing in the promotion chaser’s youth ranks, but he looks likely to make his maiden appearance sooner rather than later considering his current goalscoring form and that potential pitch time could help to persuade the teenager to stay put at the Championship side.
A lot of attention has been paid to him and Garnder-Hickman, and rightly so because the latter has never let the team down when he’s played and he should remain the starting lineup because of that.
But plaudits must also go to Fellows who deservedly made his first league start for Ismael’s men in the front three ahead of the likes of Grady Diangana and loanee Jordan Hugill, a considerable achievement as one of the better performers before being withdrawn for Diangana.
With his replacement, Hugill, Karlan Grant, Matt Phillips, Adam Reach all available as options behind the centre forward and the arrival of new signing Dike likely to push Callum Robinson back to that position too, the 18-year-old may struggle to get on the pitch regularly, potentially forcing officials at The Hawthorns to consider sending him out on loan for the remainder of the season.
However, the use of younger players like Fellows and Gardner-Hickman could end up buying him more time at the helm.
Albion fans seem to be a patient bunch on the whole, but they want to see a long-term plan and with the inclusion of some of the academy players, that could help to partially pacify some of those who are slightly sceptical of Ismael’s stewardship.
The Frenchman has the potential to succeed at the club, but tweaks to his style do need to be made and it may also take a while for Dike to settle in, potentially meaning the Baggies’ inconsistency could continue over the coming weeks.
That could leave the 46-year-old in real danger of being dismissed after seeing the owners invest heavily in a new forward – so his ability to maximise his time in charge against adversity may be crucial to turning things around – and the utilisation of youth will help in this quest.
Not only this, but there are no guarantees that Diangana will get back into form anytime soon and there may even be an injury crisis in this position with Covid cases to take into account too, so it would definitely be worth keeping Fellows at the club this month.
The chance to develop elsewhere may be a tempting prospect for the winger, but if Ismael wants to maximise his chances of keeping the fans onside and remaining in his role, he would not sanction a loan move away during this winter window.