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Fan Focus: West Brom (A) - We Catch Up With A Pair Of Baggies

The first game of the Premier League season is upon us - it's so close that you can almost smell it. Game number one of thirty-eight sees us visit the Hawthorns to take on West Bromwich Albion, another side that suffered last season due to undergoing a transitional period. I went out in search of the opposition view ahead of the tie and stumbled across baggies fans @JMuckleyPR and @MWilliamsWBA - make sure you give the lads a follow on Twitter.

Ross Kinnaird

First question – Craig Gardner. Why? I was shocked another Premier League club were prepared to gamble on him, to be honest.

Jordan: It's been well documented that Craig wanted to return to the Midlands - he is a Birmingham City supporter and all his family are based down here. I think it's shrewd business by WBA to get him in. There was an enquiry in January for him but for whatever reason it didn't happen then. With the inevitable departure of Claudio Yacob, Gardner will fit in quite nicely in to the midfield alongside Mulumbu in his favoured central role - a position which to be honest, he didn't get a fair crack in up at Sunderland. It wouldn't surprise me to see him excel in that position for us. I know that WBA are in the market for another central midfielder, so would be interesting to see him stake a claim, he has the opportunity to become a crucial member of the spine of the team.

Martyn: We have been after Gardner for some time now. He is a local lad and looked the part when playing for Birmingham City - he'll hopefully add a bit of bite to our midfield and create a little. I think he'll be a good signing for us if he gets a run in the team.

West Brom have been fairly busy in the transfer market. As of writing you guys have brought in Andre Wisdom, Gardner, Chris Baird, Joleon Lescott, Brown Ideye, Jason Davidson, Sebastien Pocognoli and Cristian Gamboa. What’s your take on the transfer business done so far?

Jordan: WBA have an outstanding recruitment department, perhaps one of the best in the PL by a country mile and have unearthed some gems like Olsson, Mulumbu, Dorrans for next to nothing, so it was refreshing to see utilise that approach again with the likes of Gamboa, Ideye, Davidson, Pocognoli all coming in, adding to the likes of Lescott, Gardner and Baird. We are still in for another striker and wide players too, so our business hasn't finished yet. Cristian Gamboa is a player to watch out for - he is electric and will take to the Prem like a duck to water. You may have a lucky escape if he doesn't play on Saturday. Last season's transfer window was appalling from start to finish. For those of you that don't know, Dave McDonough, who worked with Rafa Benitez at Liverpool and Inter, was brought in from Inter Milan to work within the recruitment team and had a keen penchant for favouring players based on statistics. On top of that, we had the likes of Anelka and Lugano all on big money topped up with too many loan signings. The only money that was spent was on Sessegnon and Anichebe, both of whom showed glimpses last season of what they are capable of, but for whatever reason, haven't pushed on. I think this season, especially with more hardworking teammates around him and less defensive responsibility, Sess will thrive once again.

Martyn: We have brought a lot of players in that have no premier league experience. The frustrating thing is we haven't had the chance to see 3 of our major signings due to fitness, work permits or visa applications. We were devoid of any pace last season at the back and have replaced both full back positions with speed in their lockers. We are still short on width and will probably have one or two players out of position on Saturday.

Do you expect many of the new signings to start the game on Saturday?

James: I expect Poco, Wisdom and Gardner to start, that's a cert. I'm not sure if the others will make it. If Brown Ideye is fit, then I think your back four will have a torrid afternoon.

Martyn: I would imagine Gardner and Pocognoli will start with Baird, Davidson, and Brown Ideye on the bench. Gamboa still has no work permit at the moment and Joleon Lescott is, unfortunately, injured.

Alan Irvine was viewed from the outside as a slightly strange appointment as manager – how do you feel the future looks under the Scotsman and – in truth – do you think it was the right time for Steve Clarke to leave the club when he did? Pepe Mel’s time at the club didn’t live up to expectations either.

James: And he is still seen as a somewhat strange appointment. I mean, WBA fans I'd like to think are some of the most realistic supporters, so he'll be given a chance for sure, but if results are going our way within the few months the pressure will really be on him. He's used his contacts to bring in the likes of Lescott and Wisdom, and he is a very well respected coach in the game, but this is his first time managing in the Premier League so we'll see how we get on. The board have backed him, though. Steve Clarke had to go and I felt sorry for Pepe Mel, he was dealt a bad hand from the start and stabbed in the back by certain players, like Steven Reid.

Martyn: In hindsight I would have kept Steve Clarke. Last season was a shambles on and on the pitch. Alan Irvine will be under pressure from day 1. The friendlies we have played in this country have been disappointing which hasn't helped - plus, I feel Terry Burton is involved heavily with the squad and recruitment. We haven't found the right system to play yet which is quite worrying.

There have been few players in the recent history of Sunderland AFC that have split the opinion of the fans like Stephane Sessegnon did. Despite his obvious brilliance he often flattered to deceive – what’s your take on him?

Jordan: I really like Sess, I think he's a terrific player. On his day, he has the beating of any defender in the league, but he blows hot and cold, some games you won't even realise he's on the pitch, but playing off the left or in behind the striker he'll do some damage, like we saw in phases last season. He is liked by the WBA fans and most would have him as the first name on the teamsheet.

Martyn: Sess is either fantastic or awful. Some games he is buzzing others he looks like he doesn't want to know. He missed an open goal against Aston Villa last season when we were 2-0 up. We drew 2-2. A lot of fans still remember him for that, unfortunately.

Our first signing of the summer was none other than Billy Jones. Sadly, he won’t be fit enough to play at the weekend. What kind of player are we getting in the shape of the hairy right back? Early signs in pre-season have been promising – hopefully he’ll give us the width that our right hand side has been lacking in that position for a number of years.

Jordan: Billy Jones is a hard worker, that's a cert. Problem I always had with Billy is that he was inconsistent, going forward, he'd run out of ideas and he was suspect at defending, getting caught out of position more often than none. Hopefully, he'll have learnt and he is still relatively young, so you could have a player on your hands. One thing I will question is his desire to move to Sunderland -  with all due respect, why? (Ouch! - Ed.)

Martyn: Billy Jones is great going forward - he has pace and can beat a player. He sometimes lets himself down positionally, especially on set pieces. There were calls for him to be considered for England not long ago, but his injuries have probably held him back slightly.

What are your expectations of the season ahead for West Brom?

Jordan: Realistically, survival again is the main target and anything else is a bonus. When you compare our squad to the likes of Leicester, QPR and Burnley, then we should be staying up relatively easily. My gut feeling is that we won't have a comfortable season.

Martyn: I think realistically we need to be above the relegation zone. When you are down there nothing goes right. I would take mid table right now and a decent cup run... for once.

How do you think Sunderland might do this season? Do you think we’re in for a struggle, or can you see us having a better term?

Jordan: I think you're in the same boat as us, one of those teams that will undoubtedly be near the bottom-to-mid table, but your lack of firepower is worrying though. I'd be concerned on that front.

Martyn: I think Sunderland will be mid table. A lot has gone on at your club like ours. It takes time to gel.

Looking at the game ahead this weekend, where do you think the Albion will have the most joy – who should we be particularly on guard against?

Jordan: That's the problem with WBA, you never know which team is going to turn up - the one that took the piss out of Man Utd last season at Old Trafford, or the one that you comfortable beat at the SoL last season. I think that we have the creativity and guile to pass you off the park, so our midfield is probably our strongest asset at the moment. But if one player will hurt you, I wouldn't bet against Sess scoring again!

Martyn: I think if we play 3 at the back I can see us trying to attack down the flanks. Sess should be up for it and Gardner too. If Brown Ideye plays he is said to have blistering pace and could cause problems.

Is there anyone from the Sunderland side you feel will cause problems at the weekend?

Jordan: I always that Adam Johnson is a player that is full of promise - he just often delivers so little. Maybe I'll be eating my words come Saturday at 5pm.

Martyn: Anybody from corners and set pieces to be honest! We are suicidal at times.

Finally, how do you see the game panning out?

Jordan: Well, we never win opening day games, apart from beating Liverpool 3-0, so I'm sitting on the fence - 1-1!

Martyn: I think it will be a score draw, 2-2. If we score early it could give us a lift so you never know. If Sunderland score early I can see problems for us.

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