Under Pulis, West Brom set for best Premier League season

LONDON: Back in August, West Bromwich Albion's Tony Pulis was the bookmakers' favorite to be the first Premier League manager to lose his job this season.

Pulis had criticized the club's board for what he deemed an unsatisfactory and frustrating offseason of transfer activity. And five games into the new campaign, it appeared that unrest was growing after a loss to Bournemouth.

Seven months later, the 59-year-old Pulis is still at the helm and West Brom is on course to equal its best finishing position of eighth, as well as achieving its most points total a Premier League season.

With seven games to play, West Brom is eighth with 43 points. It finished eighth in the 2012-13 season with 49 points when Romelu Lukaku, then on-loan from Chelsea, scored 17 goals. The club from near Birimingham has won the league title once, but that was in 1920, long before the Premier League was established in 1992.

Reaching 50 points for the first time appears to be a realistic target, even if West Brom still has Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City left to play.

"There's no complacency. We deserve enormous credit to be on 43 points already," Pulis said Friday ahead of Saturday's match with Manchester United at Old Trafford. "We have a tough end to the season coming up."

Pulis, who joined West Brom in January 2015 after an acrimonious departure from Crystal Palace, has yet to say if he will stay at the club.

"There's no rush," Pulis said. "I have a year left on my contract and the club know that."

Pulis' teams are built on the foundations of a strong defense. He established Stoke as seasoned Premier League campaigners, saved Crystal Palace from relegation and has built West Brom into a force, particularly at set-pieces.

Hard to beat at The Hawthorns, the Midlands club has won nine and drawn two of its 15 home league games.

Without big-star names, the goals have been shared around, Venezuela striker Salomon Rondon the team's leading scorer in the league with seven.

"Salomon has been fantastic this year and there's been pressure on him as the lone forward. He's contributed to our season", Pulis said.

The rest of the team has backed up Rondon, with midfielders James Morrison and Nacer Chadli scoring five apiece and Matt Phillips four.

That West Brom is a menace to teams at set-pieces is underlined by the goals scored by defenders Gareth McAuley and Craig Dawson, who netted twice in the impressive 3-1 home win over Arsenal this month. McAuley, a 37-year-old Northern Ireland international, has netted seven goals in all competitions and this week signed a new one-year deal.

"Gareth is unique," Pulis said. "To be as fit at that age is fantastic. Long may it continue. He's been brilliant."

Not everyone has good things to say about Pulis and West Brom, however, with former striker Saido Berahino saying this week he "hated" the West Brom training ground during his final months at the club.

Berahino, who served an eight-week doping ban earlier this season and claims his drink was spiked in a nightclub, was sold to Stoke in January for 12 million pounds. He had not played for the club since September.

"When he was here we thought his fitness levels were not what were required at that time," Pulis said, "but the great thing was Stoke wanted him, we were happy with the deal, Saido was delighted with the deal and we wish him the best at Stoke."