West Bromwich Albion 2020/21 Season Review: Not even Sam Allardyce could save Albion from relegation
Sam Allardyce, Manager of West Bromwich Albion looks on during the Premier League match between Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion at Elland Road on May 23, 2021 in Leeds, England. A limited number of fans will be allowed into Premier League stadiums as Coronavirus restrictions begin to ease in the UK. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

After promotion back to the Premier League, the 2020/21 season was always going to be a difficult one for West Bromwich Albion.

Tipped for an immediate return to the Championship by the majority, Slaven Bilic’s side needed to set a tempo they intended to follow when their campaign began at the Hawthorns in September.

Instead, it foreshadowed what the rest of the season had in stock for the Baggies’. Surviving the relentless pressure of the Foxes’ in the first 45 minutes, West Brom came unstuck in the second half. Three goals without response after the break exposed Albion’s defensive vulnerability. Key saves throughout the 90 minutes from Sam Johnstone both kept West Brom in the match when the scoreline was still competitive, as well as help his side avoid an embarrassing defeat – another common theme across the season.

The frontline also struggled to replicate the dangerous edge they showed in the Championship. Just one shot on target against Leicester evidenced their struggles. Five goals in their following two matches against Everton and Chelsea showed signs of encouragement for the rest of the season, but just one point and the surrendering of a 3-0 lead against the latter meant the Albion were forced to wait until the end of November for their first win of the season.

  • Sam Allardyce 

The arrival of Sam Allardyce in the middle of December may have seemed slightly unjust on Bilic, but the Englishman’s impeccable record of avoiding relegation was enough to cut ties with the Croatian and set their sights on survival at all costs.

Historically, the foundation of the former England managers success was defensive solidity. However, Allardyce struggled in his opening fixtures, with his defence conceding 13 in their first four - winning just twice between the end of December and the last game of March.

Success started in the penultimate month of the season, winning two and drawing one of their four matches in April. The most impressive of which was their brilliant performance away at Stamford Bridge. Prior to the game, the Blues held a defensive fortress at home under Thomas Tuchel, keeping seven consecutive clean sheets. Along came West Brom. Goalless in their last three against Everton, Newcastle, and Crystal Palace, Albion smashed five past Edouard Mendy

Southampton followed and suffered a similar fate to their predecessors. West Brom, who scored just 35 across the entire season, dominated once again, smashed the Saints' 3-0 at the Hawthorns.

The quick counter-attacking play was joined alongside intelligent passing that'd had not been witnessed before, with Baggies' fans wondering why it took until their 30th and 31st game to emerge.

However, such exciting play, combined with wins to show for their performance came too little, too late, and their chance of survival ended at the hands of those that set West Brom off to a losing start. 

The Leicester repeated their opening day scoreline with a convcing 3-0 win at home, ending West Brom's momentum abruptly. 

Amassing just five wins, conceding 76 (the worst since Fulham in the 2018-19 season), and collecting 26 points across 38 games was never going to be enough for survival, with West Brom now planning for life back in the Championship.

  • Transfer Business

Matheus Pereira 

Brazilian Matheus Pereira was an integral part of West Brom’s 2019/20 campaign, with the number of appearances he made in the Championship season triggering a clause to make his loan move a permanent one from Sporting Lisbon.

Winning West Brom’s Players’ and Fans’ player of the season in his debut campaign in England, the attacking midfielder scored eight and assisted 16 in the second tier, playing an integral role in the attacking arsenal.

His importance to the side did not diminish in the Premier League. Despite West Brom struggling for the entirety of the season, Pereira’s form continued. Starting 30 league games, the former FC Nürnberg man outscored his previous goal tally for the Baggies’. He bagged 11 goals, as well as collecting 6 assists – more than any other West Brom player in either category.

Despite a fantastic brace and assist away at Chelsea in an emphatic 5-2 victory away at Stamford Bridge, it was his two goals against Midlands rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers that will remain the longest in West Brom fans memory.

Both coming from the penalty sport, Pereira’s goals helped the Albion come from behind to win at Molineux and uphold their unbeaten record against Wolves that extends to 2011.

Grady Diangana 

Like Pereira, Grady Diangana was signed permanently after performing well on loan in the Championship.

Although the winger only started 23 matches in the 2019/20 season, he contributed towards 14 goals in his 30 games in the league, with his departure before the start of the following season met with much displeasure by West Ham United fans.

However, similar to the season prior, Diangana struggled with injury and only started 15 of the 38 league fixtures – scoring just once.

Proven in the Championship, Diangana will be a useful asset in West Brom’s push back to the Premier League and is unlikely to have top division suitors just yet due to his injury record and lack of goal scoring pedigree at the highest level.   

Callum Robinson 

Another man whose loan was made permanent was Callum Robinson. Originally joining on loan from Sheffield United in January 2020, his three goals and two assists in 16 games were enough to convince the West Brom hierarchy to sign him ahead of their return to the Premier League.

Starting just over half of the Albion’s games, Robinson struggled to make an impact against 19 of the divisions 20 teams.

He did, however, enjoy playing against Chelsea. Scoring twice at the Hawthorns against the then Frank Lampard side, and then a further two against a defensively resolute Tuchel, his strikes helped West Brom to an impressive four points against the Blues.

There is disappointment that he was not able to replicate the level of quality shown against Chelsea in almost any other match across the season, with only one goal across the campaign coming outside those two matches.

Filip Krovinovic

There was a clear idea for West Brom in the transfer window, and that was to retain the players that worked successfully in the Championship. As a result, the fourth man who returned to the Hawthorns was Filip Krovinovic.

Although statistically unimpressive in the second tier, with the Croatian matching Robinson’s record but in 24 extra matches, the 25-year-old was a key figure in the dressing room and became a favourite amongst the fanbase.

Loaned in once again from Benfica, Krovinovic struggled to adapt to Premier League football and started just five games in what tuned out to be a short second spell. Failing to get either a goal or an assist, the January transfer window saw him switch to Nottingham Forest for more game time.

Conor Gallagher 

Connor Gallagher was also brought in on loan but made much more of an impact. The Englishman impressed in his debut season in senior football the previous term, with a stint at Charlton and a switch to Swansea enough to convince West Brom he was good enough for the Premier League.

Playing 30 times in the league, the midfielder was ever-present at the heart of the Albion midfield and won the club’s Young Player of the Season Award.

Although he would be welcomed back to the Hawthorns with open arms, it is likely he will remain in the Premier League next season, whether that be for Chelsea, or a transfer away from Stamford Bridge once again.

Cedric Kipre

West Brom also brought in defender Cedric Kipre before the start of the season. Relegated with Wigan Athletic in the 2019/20 campaign, the Ivorian failed to make an appearance in the Premier League.

Loaned out in January to Belgian outfit Royal Charleroi, Kipre made five appearances, all of which being starts.

Branislav Ivanovic

Premier League winner Branislav Ivanovic was another signing in what a busy transfer window for West Brom. His ability to provide defensive cover across the backline and wealth of experience are likely factors in why the Serbian was brought in.

Despite West Brom conceding 76 goals, the role of cover was exactly what he played, with Semi Ajayi and Kyle Bartley registering 31 and 28 starts, respectively.

The former Chelsea man played a couple of times at the end of October and the start of November instead of Bartley in a back-four, but Ivanovic was more regularly deployed as the left centre-back of a three-back formation.

The 37-year-old retained his place under new manager Allardyce for the first four matches of his reign,  but a poor run of results saw him lose his place in the side. Ivanovic failed to make another start, and played just twice in the remaining 19 games, with injury also hampering his game time.  

David Button  

Brought into challenge Sam Johnstone for the starting goalkeeper spot, David Button remained the second-choice goalkeeper for the entirety of the season.

Watching from the dugout on 37 occasions during the campaign, the former Brighton & Hove Albion 'keeper made his league debut for the club 19 games into the season away at the Molineux.

With Johnstone missing the match after testing positive for coronavirus, Button was part of the winning team in the Black Country derby.

Andy Lonergan

Andy Lonergan also joined the goalkeeping ranks after being released from Stoke City midway through the season. The 37-year-old made the squad just once, playing the role of cover in the unlikely case that both Johnstone and Button were unavailable.

Mbaye Diagne

The January period saw Allardyce bring in a host of players in an attempt to steer West Brom away from relegation. One of these was striker Mbaye Diagne. A similar ilk of an attacker to Cenk Tosun and Christian Benteke, forwards he used at Everton and Crystal Palace respectively, the loanee gave the Midlands side a different attacking edge.

Trust was given to the 29-year-old, with Diagne missing just two league games since joining the club, starting 14 of his 16 matches.

The former Kasimpasa striker helped West Brom hold up the ball in an attacking third to bring others into play, as well as be a presence in the box and give the players on the wing a target to aim for.

However, when battling against relegation, West Brom needed a prolific striker, and Diagne could not provide them with this. According to Understat, the forward had an xG (expected goals), of over six, with his three strikes suggesting that he underperformed Infront of goal.

Robert Snodgrass

With West Ham flying in the Premier League, Robert Snodgrass struggled to get minutes on the pitch and came on as a sub in the last moments of the match just three times until his switch to West Brom.

His time at Albion got off to a winning start, playing all 90 minutes in their away victory against Wolves, but that was as good as it got for the 33-year-old. Snodgrass played no part in the victories against Brighton, Chelsea, or Southampton, and was on the losing side in five of his eight games for the club.

The former Norwich City winger could not nail down a place in the side and played a variety of positions on the pitch, with injury keeping him out of the last eight games of the season.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Okay Yokuşlu

A restricted transfer budget meant Allardyce was forced into the loan market on multiple occasions, with Ainsley Maitland Niles and Okay Yokuslu being two of four short-term deals used in January.

According to the Mirror, Maitland-Niles rejected Leicester and Southampton to join West Brom, with promises of regular game time in midfield at the heart of his decision. The Englishman got just that, playing 13 times in a central position, rather than at fullback, where he was regularly utalised for Arsenal.

He was played Infront of Yokuslu. The Turkish holding midfielder was brought in from Spanish outfit Celta Vigo and soon became a fan favourite. His ability to regain possession in the midfield and ability to pass the ball with consistency was the underlying reason for this.

Although West Brom suffered relegation from the Premier League, the duo coming into the midfield to replace Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers saw an upturn in form in the middle of the season, where West Brom lost just three matches between the middle of February and the start of May.

  • Turning Point

West Brom 1-5 Crystal Palace

The West Brom faithful would have been hoping that this segment of the review would be analysing the appointment of Allardyce, his success at turning the season around, and how with every club his brilliance at avoiding relegation has been shown once again. However, this is not the case. 

After winning their league game of the season against Sheffield United, many thought that West Brom would come into the following game against Crystal Palace brimming with confidence. Despite a shaky start with Darnell Furlong turning the ball into his net, the home side equalised through Gallagher to turn the momentum of the game in their favour. However, just four minutes later, Pereira saw red from referee Paul Tierney after his foot made contact with Patrick van Aanholt's midriff.

From that point onwards, West Brom moved into a defensive shape and conceded four goals in the second half to end the match on the wrong side of an embarrassing score.

The match was only the seventh of the season, and just one point outside the relegation zone and 31 games left to make up the deficit gave West Brom plenty of time to escape the drop zone. However, the loss to the Eagles' was then followed by a barren run of form, where they won just one of their next 14 games – with Albion failing to end a matchday outside the bottom three after their fixture against Palace.

  • Player of the Season

There is no doubt that the popular option for the player of the season was Johnstone, with the England international collecting the accolade from both the players and the fans, but Pereira cannot be overlooked.

The Brazilian led the scoring charts for his side by a distance, with the next three highest goal tallies in the West Brom ranks in Robinson, Diagne, and Bartley only scoring enough between them to equal his tally.

Doubling anyone else’s assists at the same time, it will be almost impossible for West Brom to find a replacement for Pereira should they decide to let him leave this transfer window, with their chances of promotion likely to be exiting at the same time.  

  • Most Improved Player

In a season that was defensively disappointing for West Brom, the most improved player was Johnstone. As said previously, the goalkeeper was integral in keeping his side in with a chance of avoiding the drop, saving more shots in the league than anyone else.

Although he saw 74 goals go into the net (with the other two coming against Button), his defence allowed a league-high 15.8 shot attempts – a lot more than the 8.9 that they attempted on the opposition goal.

Such performances have been recognised by Gareth Southgate, who handed the former Manchester United man an international debut against Romania. With some outside the West Brom reckoning doubting the relegated ‘keepers’ credentials, an impressive instinctive save from an Andre Ivan attempt silenced any doubters.

With injuries to both Nick Pope and Dean Henderson, Johnstone has moved into the second-choice goalkeeper role for Euro 2020, with Jordan Pickford the firm first choice.