Though it's been a tremendously awful season for Villa, at least it's been somewhat exciting, right? We know we're bad, but just how bad are we? Are we the worst team in the history of the Premier League? Would we reach record breaking levels of bad-ness? Meanwhile, West Brom, though looking like they'll be in the EPL next year, are in the midst of a pretty standard, typical season in a year in which the Premier League has gone bottoms-up crazy. They've had their good matches, a few upsets here and there, followed by a few bad losses. Not terribly exciting, is it? Still, I don't think any Villa fan would hesitate to trade places with the Baggies - boring safety is much better than exciting relegation. How can West Brom get out of their mid-table funk? To find out, we reconnected with Mark from Albion Till We Die, who we talked to earlier in the season for the reverse-fixture.
13th place in the table. About where you expected to be at this point in the season?
Mark: Yep, I don't think we've currently got the squad or play the sort of football to push into the top ten so as it stands 12-14th is probably as good as it going to get. On the plus side, with Pulis in charge I would be surprised if we got seriously dragged into the relegation scrap although we are a little too close for comfort for my liking.
Like most mid-table teams we've pulled off some good results - away at Chelsea, away at Liverpool and at home to Arsenal most notably, and we've also had some awful defeats, the ones at Swansea and Southampton and at home to Bournemouth the ones that stick in the mind.
As long as we have a bit of luck with avoiding injuries, I'd expect us to finish the season roughly where we are now. Exciting no, acceptable yes.
What's the goal for the rest of the year? Just to stay out of the relegation battle? Maybe a cup run?
Mark: Obviously Premier League survival is the priority each season, not only for Albion but for almost every other club in the league and whilst we are nowhere near safe, there is a little cushion of points that probably does allow us to chase cup glory more seriously this season than we have done in the recent past. I think last season's defeat at Villa still rankles with everyone involved with the club and there seems to be a determination from Pulis to make up for it with another good run, perhaps signified by the virtually full-strength teams he put out in the two games with Bristol City.
-The seemingly never ending question: What's the deal with Saido Berahino? What's gone on with his form, and do you expect him to stick around during the transfer window?
Mark: I think it's probably for the best of everyone that he leaves sooner rather than later. He's hardly playing for us so it's not as though we will miss him and when Pulis does play him it's usually out of position, totally negating his goalscoring threat. I'm not sure Spurs want him anymore though and it seems Newcastle have jumped to the top of the queue to sign him. I'd be surprised if he goes there but I suppose a lot depends on how badly he wants out.
It's a shame it's all come to this because a fully focused and in-form Berahino is as good a player that a club of our size could wish to have, he really is a talented player. Unfortunately his attitude has let him down badly over the last couple of seasons and shows no signs of improving. I think it's clear Pulis wants him gone, if only to free up some money to use himself.
Speaking of transfers, is there anything on the horizon in terms of new players? What areas of the pitch do you feel the Baggies need to strengthen?
Mark: We definitely need to improve our attacking options. Lambert looks as though his best days are long gone, Rondon has yet to really impress, Anichebe struggles to play two games in a row and then there's Berahino. The fact is we have failed to replace Odemwingie, Long or Lukaku despite spending big money since the trio left.
We are also crying out for pace, we must have the slowest squad in the Premier League which makes playing the counter-attacking style that you feel Pulis wants impossible.
As for whether any new players come in - I'd say it's doubtful. I'm sure Pulis would like to freshen things up but chairman Jeremy Peace is notoriously 'tight' in the January transfer window. If Berahino does leave he might be able to bring one or two permanent signings in but otherwise we will probably end up with a loan player or two.
How about the other way - is there anyone you expect to be leaving the club?
Mark: Pocognoli, Gamboa, Lindegaard and McManaman seem the most likely. For whatever reason Pulis has never really given any of them a fair chance, which is frustrating especially in McManaman's case given that we are crying out for a winger that can beat men and cause problems for defences, i.e. McManaman...
Last time I asked this question, you said you'd go for Gabby Agbonlahor if you could have any Villa player. He's been fairly anonymous this season - would he still be your answer? It's not like you've got great options to choose from, either.
Mark: Strangely he was recently linked with a move to The Hawthorns but judging by the reaction of Albion fans on social media it seems I'm the only supporter that rates him - he really would not be a popular signing. By all accounts he has been poor at Villa for a while so perhaps his time has come and gone but if we were guaranteed the Agbonlahor of a couple of years back I certainly wouldn't so no to him, especially as touched on earlier our other attacking options haven't exactly been impressive this season.
Superlatives time. Who's been the Baggies best player this season? How about the most surprising? Most disappointing?
Mark: Jonny Evans has been head and shoulders above everyone else, he really is a class act and you have to wonder why on earth Manchester United let him go. Plenty of eyebrows were raised when we let Joleon Lescott leave for Villa Park with the intention of replacing him with Evans but thankfully we seem to have by far the best part of that deal.
Most surprising is probably Stephane Sessegnon, if only for the reason none of us expected to see him shining in a Tony Pulis side, he really isn't his sort of player. To be fair to 'Sess' his workrate has improved tremendously this season and allied to his undoubted talent he fully deserves his place in the side.
Most disappointing has to be Rondon. He has so far shown nothing to suggest he's worth anything near what we paid for him in the summer. Hopefully he's just taking longer than expected to settle into English football but the signs aren't great.
Huge thanks to Mark for giving us some great pre-match insight (for the second time this season!). Be sure to head over to Albion Till I Die to read my A's to his Q's!