After months of humiliation, failure and frustration, West Bromwich Albion are finally looking like a side capable of putting up a fight under Sam Allardyce – even if it may be a little too late.
In reality, the Baggies could have come away with a victory against Manchester United last weekend – creating two more big chances than the third-placed outfit – and against Burnley, they toppled the shooting charts despite playing with ten men for over an hour.
Mbaye Diagne has offered a direct threat in attack, the elite quality of Ainsley Maitland-Niles has made an instant impact, while in Okay Yokuslu, Albion finally have their defensive anchorman to shield the Premier League’s leakiest defence.
If only these signings were in place from the start of the campaign. If only.
West Brom cannot afford to let themselves ask that very same question this summer when several of their key stars are out of contract, including club captain Kyle Bartley.
The 29-year-old must be offered fresh terms sooner rather than later, irrespective of the division they’ll be competing in as he’s now become a crucial cog under Big Sam.
Sporting director Luke Dowling and the fellow Hawthorns hierarchy have already shown that they are thinking of the future by tying Conor Townsend down to a three-and-a-half-year extension, so they must do the same with the 6 foot 4 titan.
He, just like the former Hull City man, is going to be a player suited to the test regardless of whether it is Premier League or Championship football next season.
Bartley had been struggling for consistency early in the season but in more recent times, he’s shone at the back, notably against arch-rivals Wolves, where Allardyce labelled him “excellent” (even comparing the centre-back to himself) and versus the Red Devils, where he kept the illustrious Edinson Cavani silent for 90 minutes.
The long-serving defender, who earns only £17.5k-per-week in the Midlands, is also a massive threat from set-pieces, thus resulting in him being the Baggies’ joint-second top goalscorer on two for the season, alongside Callum Robinson and Conor Gallagher.
Bartley is a “natural-born leader” and a “real competitor,” according to former caretaker Jimmy Shan, who waxed lyrical to the Express & Star over him less than two years ago.
Which is what Albion need in abundance, particularly if they face the dreaded drop.
The former Leeds United man can continue to play a crucial part for the club, so with that in mind, Dowling and co must follow up their Townsend call by tying down the £1.7m-rated colossus to their defining future.