It was probably the most defiant of gestures in the face of relegation. Thousands of West Brom fans giving their team a rousing send-off to their Premiership campaign, a send-off which gave one overriding message—We Will Be Back.
Their season, for the most part, has been one seemingly conducted under a cloud. From the moment it began, one poor result was followed by another, yet still there was a hope, a faint hope that relegation could be avoided.
Memories of that glorious escape under Bryan Robson three years ago were stirred, and the hope was rekindled. Last night, it was extinguished.
But for their fans, this was not a moment to look back, but a time to look forward.
Certainly, amidst the inevitable doom and gloom of relegation, there are green shoots of optimism to be had for West Brom.
Whatever you think about the positives and negatives of conducting a cautious campaign, based on contingency in case of relegation, it is at times like these that such a policy can seem fully justified.
While some may argue the Baggies would not be in this position had they truly believed they belong in the Premiership, the club are undoubtedly entering the Championship in far better health than they left it.
Indeed, this fact is not lost on those in charge at the Hawthorns. Jeremy Peace, the West Bromwich chairman, has stated that the club are financially in “good shape.”
Meanwhile Tony Mowbray, speaking to the BBC yesterday, said: “We don't have to sell players because we don't have any debt at the club. We can keep players we want. Their salaries are affected by what league they're in.”
Furthermore, he added: “We are now a better team than we have been for a lot of seasons, the team have grown into the Premier League and learned a lot of lessons along the way. Hopefully we can use those lessons next season in the Championship.”
Mowbray himself certainly deserves another opportunity at getting this team promoted once more. He is one of football's good guys.
A hero at Middlesbrough as a player, his management style is based upon attractive passing football, and his refusal to compromise style for substance should be applauded for its idealism, though ultimately it may have been one of the reasons for their relegation.
But his team is more than capableand there is quality to be found, often abundantly in specific positions. Certainly, West Brom boast an abundant supply of Premiership-quality midfielders, who the club must fight to keep next season.
Jonathan Greening, Chris Brunt, and James Morrison are three such players. Boasting neat playmaking skills and an eye for goal, they will attract some admiring glances from clubs in the Premier League's midtable.
Meanwhile, the likes of Robert Koren, Borja Valero, and Filipe Teixiera will be more than a match for Championship defences, and Dean Kiely and Scott Carson are both internationally capped goalkeepers, who have sparkled fleetingly amidst the gloom.
Gianni Zuiverloon and Paul Robinson also deserve special mention as players who did not look out of place at the highest level.
With relegation, must come change, but this is not necessarily a bad thing, and in two key areas West Brom must change to survive, and indeed thrive.
Goals decide football matches, and for all their admirable qualities, West Brom have scored too few, and conceded too many. A Premiership-class centre half, and a striker who could score 10 Premiership goals will be high on Mowbray's list.
He need only look at Tony Pulis' example at Stoke. Two of his key signings? Abdouleye Faye and James Beattie, one stopping goals and the other scoring them, and Pulis has been duly rewarded with a mid-table finish.
Perhaps with these changes, Tony Mowbray's vision of building a team who can compete with the best can become a reality. But the stark reality is that next season he must navigate his way through the stormy waters of the Championship shark pit.
But will they be back? Just ask the West Brom fans, because they seem to know the answer.
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