This time last year, Albion were embarking on a run that would see them almost setting the pace in the Premier League, rattling off five wins in their first seven matches, nine in their first 13, allowing Steve Clarke to discover how it feels when life turns difficult for a manager with the considerable insurance of points in the bank.
There will be no such luxury this time. Indeed, the difficult times are already here. After three games and no goals, Clarke’s side are bottom of the embryonic Premier League table with the worrying look of one destined to be never far away from there for much of the season.
Clarke, more anxious than most for a productive day before the transfer window closes, has made no attempt to pretend his squad does not need serious reinforcement and a tepid performance against a Swansea side beaten in both their opening games did nothing to suggest he was being unduly pessimistic.
A goal in each half, the first a sweetly executed volley from 20-year-old left-back Ben Davies, the second coming on a late counter attack, in which Pablo Hernandez had the finishing attack, reflected Swansea’s dominance inadequately, if anything.
“We had some chances to score more goals,” Michael Laudrup, the Swansea manager, said. “They had an early chance after a set piece but after that we dominated, surprisingly much in the second half.
“We started with two very difficult games, against the champions and then against Tottenham, and after the international break we have Liverpool at home, so it was very important that we got something here.”
It is important for Clarke that Albion’s negotiating team, principally Jeremy Peace, the chairman, and Richard Garlick, the club’s sporting and technical director, get something, or rather someone, from the list of targets their manager handed to them, some weeks ago, to bring his squad up to the standard required to maintain their place in the Premier League.
Albion did not manage a shot on target and Clarke made no attempt to paper over the cracks. “I felt that we played some good football at times but there was not enough quality or maybe conviction,” he said. “We did nor produce enough chances for the times we had the ball in the final third.
“You need to score 40 to 50 goals over a season to stay in the Premier League and it is clear that we are going to need some help. We need players with a bit of quality and a bit of craft.
“But I think we are close to one or two deals -- certainly I’d like to think we are or it will be difficult to get over the line. The supporters need some good news, the club needs some good news. I need some good news.”
Swansea had started brightly but the home side’s response was positive, with Nicolas Anelka’s industry a key element. The Hawthorns crowd cheered their approval of the Frenchman’s return after his absence on compassionate leave and he had a busy afternoon, albeit one spent dropping back to find the ball, as he would for much of the game. He had one shot on goal, but dragged it wide.
It was he who supplied the pass, too, for one of Albion’s few chances, setting up James Morrison to shoot in the 15th minute. Michel Vorm would have been tested had Ashley Williams not arrived with a block.
Shane Long inadvertently got in the way of a Morrison header from Scott Sinclair’s free kick as Albion pressed for an advantage, yet they conceded after 22 minutes, defending poorly. After Hernandez had beaten Liam Ridgewell to deliver a cross from the right, a misdirected header by Claudio Yacob allowed him a second attempt and this time the winger lifted the ball to the far post, where Davies beat Boaz Myhill with a lovely left-foot volley.
What was pleasing for Laudrup was that those players who made the 2,500-mile round trip to Romania in the Europa League last week showed no sign of fatigue, despite their plane touching down as late as five o’clock on Friday morning. Then again, it would be worrying at this early stage if they were. Once the Thursday-Sunday routine becomes the norm he may need to reassess.
After watching a Gareth McAuley go over the bar, Clarke made changes, sacrificing a defensive midfielder for an extra striker when Markus Rosenberg replaced Yacob and throwing in the youthful Saido Berahino, scorer of a League Cup hat-trick last week, for Sinclair.
But in doing so he left gaps for Swansea to exploit on the counter, at which they are adept. With nine minutes left, Michu broke away and released Hernandez, whose shot clipped the top of Myhill’s bar. Two minutes later, Michu attacked from the left flank and though Jonas Olsson blocked the striker’s first attempt, the ball went back to him and he was able to set up Hernandez to confirm the win.
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