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Championship - Football: Bruce struggling to stop the rot

When the 2021/22 Championship campaign got underway, West Bromwich Albion were considered one of the favourites for the title.

This article was originally published on 27th February 2022

The Baggies were relegated to the Championship after finishing 19th under Sam Allardyce, although it was Slaven Bilic that had started the last top-flight campaign in the dugout.

West Brom rolled the dice with Allardyce shortly before Christmas in 2020, putting their faith in a manager that had often helped clubs avoid the drop despite the circumstances.

After a chaotic summer following their demotion, they turned to Frenchman Valerien Ismael, having watched him perform miracles in South Yorkshire.

But the former Barnsley boss lost his job at the start of February after a dire first half of the season.

After a few weeks away from the madness of top-flight management, former Newcastle United coach Steve Bruce was given the task of getting their promotion bid back on track.

Fast forward a few weeks, and nothing has really got going for Bruce at the Hawthorns, and time is running out for a playoff push.

Bruce a victim of Ismael era

You would have had to dig deep through the social media archives to find a West Brom fan who wanted Ismael to stay put earlier this month.

West Brom, 13/2 to be promoted, have not won since January and even then, they beat Peterborough United 3-0, and the Posh look destined to return to the third tier.

The Baggies have struggled to maintain the same standards they set at the start of the season, and Bruce's arrival has yet to give them the boost they craved.

His first game in charge came less than a week after his appointment, and it didn't end well as the Baggies slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Sheffield United.

So far, Bruce's best result is a goalless draw at home against Blackburn Rovers, and the former Magpies coach needs to hope something changes quickly.

Is a formation switch the answer to Bruce's problems?

As with all new managers, Bruce is struggling to figure out what is best for his players.

Since he returned to the Midlands for another coaching job, his side has scored just one goal, while injuries have not helped their cause.

January signing Daryl Dike has barely had the chance to make an impact, with the 21-year-old out until the March international break with a hamstring problem.

But Bruce's decision to select Andy Carroll as his sole striker could be part of the problem.

Like Dike, Carroll arrived in January, and he has yet to find the back of the net in 450 minutes of football since his move.

Bruce does have options in the final third, though, and a switch to a 4-4-2 formation could be his next move.

Karl Ahearne-Grant and Callum Robinson are waiting in the wings to partner Carroll in the final third, and a change in tactic could be the catalyst the club needs to turn their fortunes around.

Monday's fixture offers glimmer of hope

With West Brom struggling for confidence, there could be no better fixture than Monday's clash with Swansea City.

The Swans have lost four of their last six games in the second tier, and Russell Martin's side are nearly on the beach.

Promotion looks out of the equation, although they do of games in hand, as many as four on some of their rivals.

But what motivation levels do the Swansea players still have? Martin's troops, who are 4/1 to win at The Hawthorns, have not scored in four consecutive games away from home.

Their last away win came in November, and West Brom need to take advantage while the chance is there.

The Hawthorns has usually been a happy hunting ground for the Baggies, but one win in four at home means Bruce's men will need to get the fans on side, with the former Hull City boss hoping they could start a snowball effect by picking up three points.

Bruce aware time is running out

He said: "We have to start winning and winning quickly, otherwise time is going to run out for us.

"We have to give ourselves a chance in the next couple of games, and find a few results to keep us in the running.

"Currently, we are seven points outside the top six, which obviously leaves us with work to do - but we are capable.

"The next game is crucial; it's key. We have a good home record, and we've got eight games left at home. We have to get the bandwagon rolling. Otherwise, it gives us too much work to do."

Ahead of Monday's battle against the Swans, Bruce is adamant that the mood is strong in the dressing room.

The Baggies, 3/4 to get the job done on Monday, managed to retain some big characters when they were relegated, but the players have not sung off the same hymn sheet all season.

They look disjointed and fragile, but a big performance on Monday could galvanise a squad that really should be competing further up the table.

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