As you are probably all aware by now, our overlord and chief, Simon Walsh, is away sunning himself in France on what he claims to be a well-earned holiday. This meant that we had to decide how to allocate his usual body of work elsewhere, and despite David Boyle suggesting we do this by competing against each other in some contests of an utterly shameful nature, we ended up with me just cherry-picking which ones I wanted and dumping the others on the rest of the lads.
Fan Focus is a feature that I have been wanting to get my grubby little mitts on for months, so I nabbed the opportunity to quiz football writer Chris Lepkowski on the West Bromwich Albion pre-game perspective with relish.
Chris is fortunate enough to cover all things WBA for the Birmingham Mail, and keeps am extensive and very entertaining blog on the club which can be found here.So we know we are in the best possible hands this week. Enjoy.
Hello and welcome to Roker Report. Roy Hodgson emerging from his Liverpool nightmare to make such an impact with WBA was one of the stories of last season. What impact has the confidence gained from last season had on the expectation levels at the Hawthorns? Does simple survival remain the goal, or are there genuine aspirations to establish the club in the mid-table pack this year?
Chris: Expectations have flexed up. For once Albion haven't been one of the immediate favourites for relegation, though QPR's takeover has altered that landscape - that said, so have the shenanigans at Blackburn. Hodgson will tell you that survival is the only aim. Rightly so, Albion's only aim is to still be in the Premier League next season. The most optimistic supporters were expecting a mid-table, potential Europa League push. In reality, anywhere between 12th and 17th will suffice for now.
WBA have had a a slow start to the current campaign but early season form can be misleading. Is the current position in league a fair reflection of their performances?
Chris: They deserved more from their performances against Manchester United, Chelsea and Stoke. Three points - a draw in each game - would have been a fair reflection. Instead they got zero. That said, they didn't play too well at Norwich (but won 1-0) and were awful against Swansea (0-3). The goalless draw against Fulham was fair. Four points are probably about right.
There seemed to be some parallels between Peter Odemwingie and Asamoah Gyan this summer before two very different outcomes. Just how important was it for WBA's prospects to keep a hold of Odemwingie and settle him back down?
Chris: Odemwingie's future was only really blown up by a few rogue bloggers in Nigeria who had him joining several Italian clubs and, amusingly of all, Arsenal. These were picked up by websites (claiming to report 'news') in England. Albion were, in all probability never going to accept less than eight figures for him given his form last season. He's got his deal, scored once already. There is more to come from Odemwingie.
There were a lot of raised eye-brows last season when Roberto Di Matteo was sacked relatively early in the season but the decision was entirely vindicated by what followed. Looking in from the outside, do you think a similar change would benefit Sunderland or do you advocate further patience and sticking with Bruce?
Chris: He needs time. How many players have Sunderland brought in? Nine, 10? You cannot expect players to just settle into their new jobs overnight. Consider the logistics. Young man leaves base, moves to a new city, knows few people, expected to perform straight away. All of us need time to settle into a new environment. Then throw in the fact that these players have to not only settle as individuals but also gel as a team. It took Sir Alex Ferguson four years to build a winning formula at Manchester United. Steve Bruce isn't Sir Alex, but he's also no mug. He needs time. He needs this season - as a bare minimum - to mould Sunderland. Sacking him now would smack of short-termism. It's not how you breed success. Mind you, he probably won't get too many more games if results continue as they have. That's not correct - but it's the way of the world, sadly.
On to the game itself, whch Sunderland players do you think WBA will be most worried about and, conversely, which weaknesses in the Sunderland team will they fancy their chances of exploiting? Conversely, who should Sunderland be most worried about dealing with?
Chris: I haven't seen enough of Sunderland to comment on your strengths, though any side who stick four past Stoke will concern Albion. The hosts need to be aware of Albion as a unit. They've not performed consistently. Peter Odemwingie does well against Sunderland and is getting better....
And lastly, can we get a prediction from you for Saturday?
Chris: I'm going for a draw. Really. I cannot split these sides. Neither can afford to lose.
Thanks Chris and, as mentioned above, make sure you give Chris' WBA blog a read from time to time.