West Brom are looking to mount an automatic promotion push this season after failing at the final play-off hurdle against Derby County in May. They are currently unbeaten at home in the league, the Championship’s top scorers, sit joint second in the table and claimed a notable victory over league leaders Watford on Saturday, routing the Hornets by 3 goals to 0 at Vicarage Road. Indeed, only a goal in the 5th minute of time added on by their former player, Steve Watson, pegged them back in the following match against Sheffield Wednesday.
There is an interesting assortment of nationalities in the Albion squad: manager Tony Mowbray brought in 9 players, including a defender by the name of Pele in August, not the legendary, aging Brazilian now famous for erection difficulty advertisements but Pedro Pele, a 29-year-old of Cape Verde descent who was reared in Portugal. The versatile Leon Barnett was signed from Luton for an initial £2.5m, a versatile family too, his Aunt Beverly is currently appearing on the X Factor.
They like to share the goals around at the Hawthorns, too, with no fewer than 12 players scoring in all competitions. Portuguese playmaker, Felipe Teixeira has been in inspired form, providing more than his fair share. Robert Koren has weighed in with some valuable contributions. The experienced, lethal Kevin Phillips leads the way with 10, and yet it is the man sitting just behind him in the goalscoring charts with 9 who has raised eyebrows this term: Ishmael Miller.
Adding to the nucleus of an already strong squad in the summer, Mowbray drafted Miller in on loan from Manchester City with a view to a permanent deal, stating that: ‘Ishmael will give us a different option up front. He’s a big, quick, powerful lad who is looking for an opportunity to play more regularly. He will increase competition for places with the other strikers.’
Miller took just 7 minutes of his debut, after coming on as a substitute against Preston, to open his account for Albion with a typical run down the flank and finishing well after cutting in. It was the type of potential he displayed sporadically when at Eastlands, when on his full debut for Manchester City he ran virtually the length of the field, cut into the West Ham United penalty area and supplied the cross for Georgios Samaras to exquisitely volley home.
However, Miller encountered a distinct lack of opportunities from the start under Stuart Pearce, generally coming onto the left flank from the bench in the latter stages of games when it was very difficult to make an impact. It was a problem position for Manchester City; Kiki Musampa, Albert Riera and DaMarcus Beasley all occupying it at points during loan deals, while Samaras and Darius Vassell would also spend time there. When Martin Petrov was brought in during the summer, though, Miller anticipated with relish the probability of regular first team action at West Brom.
Standing at 6ft 3″, the Moston Menace initially began life as a forward, but made the transition to left winger in the reserves at Manchester City. He didn’t, though, have any problems in transferring his regular goalscoring form to his new position. It was such form that made Pearce sit up and take notice of him, first late in the 2005-6 season and then quite intermittently during the following campaign.
Mowbray clearly recognised the assets that Miller would bring to his team. Powerful, with pace to burn and an eye for goal, he initially started replacing Craig Beattie in matches, proving a good foil for Phillips up front. He could have had a hat-trick in the 4-2 Carling Cup home reverse to Cardiff were it not for the offside flag. Yet he has started as a lone striker too, at Scunthorpe, where he was a dangerous outlet. Manchester City’s website still lists him as an offensive midfielder, but West Brom’s classes him as a forward, and a very good one at that.
Following his debut, Miller missed the televised defeat at Sheffield United through injury. Since then, he has not only rattled in the goals but provided 5 assists. Usually it’s the ones with a low centre of gravity who have no problems in dribbling well, but Miller is proving too that the taller players in the game can utilise speed, power and technique.
How Miller will eventually adapt to the Premiership again remains to be seen, but that is undoubtedly where he will end up. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s stance is contradictory: he stated recently that he watched Miller against Q.P.R on television, with Micah Richards in attendance for moral support, and was hugely impressed with his form, not only in that game but in general. Indeed, Sven has been chirping this week about wanting more strikers, yet he’s also been expressing his desire for the allowance of 7 substitutes to keep large squads happy.
Add this to the speculation regarding Heerenveen hit-man, Afonso Alves and Sven singing the praises of Nicolas Anelka at Bolton, and it looks less likely Miller will return. There has been gossip too regarding the future of Samaras in a possible swap deal for Alves, plus there is Valeri Bojinov to come back from injury. Where does this leave Ishmael?
Possibly as a winger at Eastlands, who knows, but there has been talk recently of the Baggies making a £2m offer to take the starlet on board permanently. He has been a Manchester City fan since his younger years, but whether or not he will stay at Eastlands, particularly in the event of West Brom being promoted, is another matter entirely.