As Gordon Brown keeps insisting, there are times when it is prudent to stand by your principles and times when what looks like the wrong thing to do is actually the best way forward. Tony Mowbray, the West Bromwich Albion manager, chose to compromise his beliefs at Stoke on Saturday. Worryingly, it proved a bad move.
Happily, only a football match was at stake, rather than a global economy. Yet Mowbray still left the arena wearing the look of a man who had just seen a nasty opinion poll. Under fire for sticking to his guns, in the face of poor results, over how he likes his team to play, he had given in – just a little – to his critics and taken on the opposition at their own game. It hadn't worked.
His captain, Jonathan Greening, defended him loyally. "It's a short pitch in length and width so we knew we weren't going to be able to play our normal, open, attacking game so we wanted to match them in their area, in physicality and tackles," he said. "For most of the game we did that really well and, in the end, I thought we were unlucky to lose."
Unlucky or not, Albion did lose, for the sixth time in seven matches, and in the poll that counts – for the Premier League – they are last. But Greening stands shoulder to shoulder with Mowbray on how the game should be played. "We're behind the gaffer's philosophy," he said. "We'll carry on playing the way we are. The only teams who have really dominated us are the big four, who are the best teams in Europe.
"It is a shock to be where we are. But there are hardly any points in it at this stage and we're very confident that if we keep believing we've got every chance of climbing the table."
It will take some nerve. Then again, it could be argued that Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, has been mentally strong to stand unwaveringly by what he believes in, whatever Arsène Wenger or any other supposed luminary might say.
Not that he accepts their view in any case. "I don't think we're as direct as people say," he argued, "although if they want to say that it doesn't worry me at all as long as we keep winning games." So far they have won a healthy five. "You play to your strengths," he added. "We play through the pitch. If Tony [Mowbray] wants to play a lot of passes in his own half, that's not a problem for me, but I don't like doing that. We play through the pitch and if that doesn't work we try to use the angles. I think we play some good football at times."
So it was that Stoke won this contest. Having made no gains, for once, from Rory Delap's throws, and finding the middle ground congested, they took to the wings, where a classic give-and-go between Michael Tonge and Danny Higginbotham ended with a perfect far-post cross for Mamady Sidibe to head home.
Goal: Sidibe (84) 1-0.
Stoke City (4-4-1-1): Sorensen; Griffin, Abdoulaye Faye, Shawcross (Cort, 80), Higginbotham; Soares (Tonge, 65), Amdy Faye, Diao, Delap; Sidibe; Kitson (Cresswell, 11). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Olofinjana, Whelan, Wilkinson.
West Bromwich Albion (4-1-4-1): Carson; Zuiverloon, Meite, Olsson, Robinson; Valero (Bednar, 86); Koren, Kim (Teixeira, 57), Brunt, Greening; Miller. Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Cech, Barnett, Moore, Donk.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire).
Booked: Stoke Tonge.
Man of the match: Higginbotham.
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