Salut! Sunderland feels as if it is tracking the developing career of our young WBA interviewee Nathan Carr, owner of the popular @BaggiesGalore fan site. In his visits to these shores, he has risen from ‘aspiring sports journalist’ to ‘aspiring sports journalist with a growing media presence’. See the imprssive list of people he writes for below*. Nathan is always welcome here, even when he comes laden with gloomy thoughts about Sunderland, ahead of Saturday’s game at the Hawthorns, albeit expressed before Big Sam’s appointment …
Salut! Sunderland: A Stats.com supercomputer (http://talksport.com/football/premier-league-table-super-computer-predicts-final-bpl-table-201516-151007169511?p=6) has predicted a 14th finish for West Brom. I take it that would be your minimum expectation?
Nathan Carr: Yes I would say so. We certainly don’t expect to go down – especially with Tony Pulis in charge – and finishing mid-table with 40 points sounds about right. I do believe there are three worse teams than us within the league, while top 10 is too far away at the moment.
And it has Sunderland ending up bottom with a mighty 32 points. I suppose that can hardly cause offence given our start but can you see us doing much better?
I have Sunderland to get relegated this season, unfortunately. Unless, of course, the new manager can really galvanise and lift the club. In the snippets I’ve seen so far this season, you’ve looked very shaky at the back and rather lacking in team spirit and discipline.
The likes of Jeremain Lens, Yann M’Vila, Ola Toivonen and Fabio Borini are impressive summer buys however they need to step up and perform consistently. There’s enough going forward in my opinion – defensively is where I worry for you. That lack of defensive pace has already been exposed and it will continue to be until you offload players such as Wes Brown and John O’Shea. But without doubt your next managerial appointment will be key to determining your final position.
How surprised have you been by our start – yet more managerial upheaval, yet another early run of lamentable results?
Fairly surprised. You have a good squad but there seems to be a lot of anxiety and nervousness around Sunderland. Maybe it’s a weak mentality or lack of belief. A bad start to the season is the last thing that any team wants and losing to Leicester, Norwich and Bournemouth in your opening eight fixtures is concerning.
These are teams around you which you must beat, or at least draw with. There needs to be more stability at Sunderland. Give the fans something to shout about, something to really get behind. I feel that sometimes your players look as if they don’t care and miss passion. The encouraging thing, though, is that there’s still sufficient time to turn your season around.
Is there a single player in our squad that you wouldn’t mind having at Albion?
I’d absolutely take Jermain Defoe. Granted, he’s 30+ now, but he is a prolific and proven Premier League goal scorer who still possesses plenty of speed. A mention for Patrick van Aanholt, too, who I think is a useful left-back.
A few of us would have been pleased to see Jonny Evans back. How is he doing for you?
Evans is doing very, very well since joining in the summer. He’s only played in a handful of games thus far and in every one he’s stood out, for the right reasons. He was particularly excellent against Aston Villa in late September: vocal, aggressive in the tackle and tidy on the ball. He’s clearly hungry to play games having had limited opportunities at Manchester United. He’s actually just picked up an injury so it’s unknown whether he’ll be fit to face Sunderland.
You’ve made an uninspiring start in terms of results but what sort of job overall do you reckon Tony Plis is doing?
Eight points after eight matches is a rather underwhelming start. Beating Stoke and Villa have been highlights but there have definitely been more lowlights, not least losing our last two games on the spin without putting up a proper fight.
Our fan base appears split over Tony Pulis: there’s those who appreciate that the football is bland but realise that with him in charge we’ll invariably amass enough points to stay up and then there’s those who cannot stand the negativity and rigidness and are leaning toward “Pulis out”. I’m more in the latter camp myself. Some of the football that we’ve played this season has been frankly dreadful. We rarely show any kind of attacking ambition or adventure, instead putting the emphasis on the opposition to attack. Players with flair such as Stephane Sessegnon, Callum McManaman and Serge Gnabry, on loan from Arsenal, have been neglected (less so in McManaman’s case). Pulis prefers the more conservative choices like Craig Gardner and James McClean.
Defensively under Pulis we’ve generally been very strong, no major problems there. It’s in the final third where we really need to improve and despite Pulis acknowledging this, he’s done nothing to actually change it. Saido Berahino being brought off at half-time for Gardner away at Crystal Palace sums up the negativity. We’re also out of the League Cup having lost 3-0 to Norwich (with Victor Anichebe playing as a deep-lying midfielder). Put it this way, Pulis will keep us up. I’m pretty sure about that. But some Albion fans want more than just that. They want more entertainment value, more creativity in forward areas and less focus on two banks of four for the whole 90 minutes.
How are the fans reacting to the Saido Berahino saga, what has been his attitude and is Salomón Rondón showing signs of delivering?
The fans have generally been good toward Berahino after threatening to go on strike. He was clapped when substituted on against Southampton and we sung his name when he scored the winner against Villa.
He’s still a young lad and he was very naïve in the summer, he made several big mistakes. But now he just needs to get his head down and focus on playing football – if he keeps on scoring goals for us then the fans will soon forget.
Having ambition and wanting to move onto bigger and better things is absolutely fine, no issues with that. But there’s a way of going about it and he still has a lot to learn. He seems to be working hard since the saga. In terms of Rondon, his start hasn’t been earth-shattering but there’s signs that he could be a significant player for us. He scored against Stoke and we hoped that would open the floodgates; however the service to him in recent outings has been way below par. He has looked jaded after international breaks and slightly disinterested when up front by himself in a 4-5-1. His track record at the likes of Malaga and Zenit is very impressive and at 26 there’s still plenty of development left in him. It’s early days yet, we must remember this, but I’m confident that he’ll come good. He’s got all the physical attributes and can be a real handful for defenders.
And what do you make of James McClean, who had a bright start for us before fading so much that SAFC fans probably remember him more for winding them up with his statements and gestures?
A tireless worker and likes a tackle, but nothing spectacular in my opinion. He’s played well in games where we’ve set up defensively (most games) and where he’s had to track back but going forward he can improve. Sometimes his crosses are astray and his first touch isn’t always sharp enough. He’s a solid Premier League squad player, not much else.
What will be this season’s top four in order?
1) Manchester City
2) Manchester United
1And the bottom three, plus our clubs’ finishing positions if not already dealt with?
WBA to finish 15th
Tell us what supporting WBA means in your life and a little about the greatest pleasures and disappointments it has brought.
West Bromwich Albion Football Club is in my blood. I’ve been a Baggie right since I was born. Greatest moments: the Great Escape, when we were rock bottom of the Premier League at Christmas but still staved off relegation under the guidance of Bryan Robson. Beating Wolves 5-1 in their own backyard three seasons ago was incredible, Peter Odemwingie scored a hat-trick and we blew them away. That won’t happen again for a long, long, long time and will go down as one of the greatest Albion games I’ve ever been to.
Worst moments: relegation never left a particularly sweet taste in the mouth. The 2013/14 season was pretty horrendous, on and off the pitch. Nicolas Anelka’s “quenelle” celebration, losing to Stoke via a last-minute Charlie Adam winner on the last day and Diego Lugano were all contributory factors. Somen Tchoyi leaving was a big blow as a supporter, too. But I’d rather concentrate on the positives than negatives!
How strong a sense of history do you have, for example in comparing the Albion squad of today with the stars of the past you are too young to have seen?
I would have loved to have seen the likes of Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, Tony Brown and Brendon Batson in their prime. That would have been amazingly good. We’ve had some terrific players over the years, for sure. And some rather shoddy ones too! I believe we’ve had worse squads than our current one but it doesn’t match the Cunningham and Regis era, nowhere near in fact.
We did our little bit for the Justice for Jeff Astle campaign – https://safc.blog/2015/02/still-seeking-justice-for-jeff-as-west-bromwich-albion-visit-sunderland/ – and his family were good enough to acknowledge that. What has it achieved, do you think?
I think it’s raised awareness of Jeff’s condition and now of course there’s the Jeff Astle Foundation which has been supported and endorsed by various high-profile figures. Jeff’s whole family have worked very hard on promoting the campaign and I wish them all the best with it.
You hate diving and other forms of cheating as much as I do, but how much desire do you detect from the authorities to tackle it seriously?
I’ve noticed that referees are brandishing yellow cards for diving with more regularity, especially in the Premier League. The issue is the lack of consistency with the cards. Perhaps there needs to be a stricter punishment for those who dive. What that punishment is I’m not entirely sure.
Two draws last season in our games. Will you be at this one and how do you see it going?
I won’t be at this one because of university commitments. Prediction: Albion 2-1 Sunderland.
* Nathan on himself: I’m Nathan an 18-year-old aspiring football journalist studying sports journalism at Staffordshire University. I’ve been running @BaggiesGalore since May 2013 and it has since amassed over 4,000 Twitter followers.I enjoy sharing my views on the club and interacting with supporters on a wide variety of different topics, ranging from transfer signings to tactics. I write weekly match reports on West Brom for the Express & Star newspaper as well as appearing on the weekly Albion podcast ‘Listen West Brom’ which is provided by Read West Brom. Away from my club, I also run The Home of Caribbean Football website which is @caribbeanftbl on Twitter. Through this I’ve been fortunate enough to get published in the likes of World Soccer, FIFA World Cup Magazine, Goal USA, Al Jhazeera and Football Manager amongst others. I have a project called ‘Carib Young Stars’ coming out in December 2015, profiling 25 up-and-coming Caribbean youngsters who are under the age of 23. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram (caribbeanftbl) for the latest developments on that.
Interview: Colin Randall