Signing Kyle Bartley is a huge defensive boost for West Brom
The Championship season begins on Friday evening, 3 August, when Derby travel to the Madejski Stadium to face Reading. On the Saturday afternoon following, West Bromwich Albion go to the City Ground to open their campaign against Nottingham Forest. The transfer window is in full swing and the Baggies completed the signing of former Swansea defender, Kyle Bartley.
WBA were relegated from the Premier League after a torrid time under Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew. Caretaker manager and ex-West Brom defender Darren Moore gave the Baggies hope. He couldn't save the club from relegation but produced a five-match unbeaten run, including victories against Manchester United, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur. The two draws were against Swansea and Liverpool. Combined, the results earned Moore Manager of The Month accolades for April.
It also won him the manager's job on a permanent basis. Moore aims to return to the Premier League. Easier said than done.
Defensive issues last season resulted in 56 goals conceded. Albion's two main defenders, Jonny Evans and Gareth MacAuley, left the club. Moore is starting from scratch and he hopes that Kyle Bartley will go a long way toward curing the itch. In Championship terms, £4 million isn't much but purchasing a tall, strong centre-back for that price is a good deal.
Bartley should fit immediately into Moore's starting XI as Ahmed Hegazi's partner. There are no other major contenders for the position. Moore needs to provide cover for the pair but he filled his primary need.
Born in Stockport, the 6'4" central defender played youth football with Bolton Wanderers before moving to Arsenal. During his three-year with the Gunners, he didn't make a single league appearance. Arsene Wenger sent him out on loan. Back-to-back spells at Sheffield United and Rangers secured enough playing time to cut his teeth. Swansea City bought him for £1 million in 2012.
His six seasons with the Swans were also forgettable. Injuries were a key issue. When fit, the towering defender was sent out on loan, presumably to help him regain his confidence with more playing time.
The list of injuries isn't that long. It's the length of each that's troubling. In 2012/13, a strained thigh muscle kept him out for 85 days and 14 games. The following season it was a hamstring injury. He missed 57 days and 10 games. A knee injury claimed 50 days in 2014/15. Bartley missed six games.
Last season was the worst. A ruptured knee ligament shelved Bartley for 23 games and 133 days. That wasn't the end. Three months later, he suffered another knee injury. Another 86 days brings him right up to the beginning of this campaign. Swansea were cutting their losses. West Brom is taking a chance.
The former England U17 will keep his fingers crossed, as will Moore. If he can remain healthy, his quality will help the team. He is a focused player with a penchant for blocking shots. The Baggies will need to keep the ball out of their goal to make an immediate Premier League return. The dice have been tossed. West Brom fans will hope they don't come up craps before the campaign ends.