Memories of West Brom's bright start are fading as Goran Popov's moment of madness adds to manager's problems
It would be fair to say that West Bromwich Albion have had better weeks. If the sight of Peter Odemwingie parked up outside Loftus Road on deadline day, shaking hands with supporters of a club that he would never join, bordered on the ridiculous, the image of Goran Popov aiming a mouthful of phlegm at Kyle Walker represented madness of a completely different kind.
Throw in two league defeats, against Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, and Albion will be glad to see the back of the past seven days.
Popov's despicable behaviour, two minutes into the second half, earned the Macedonia left-back a deserved straight red card and changed the course of a game that had been in the balance up until that point. Having tangled with Walker near the byline, Popov needlessly became embroiled in an exchange with the England international that culminated in him spitting in his direction. Mark Clattenburg was perfectly positioned to witness the incident and the referee had no hesitation in sending off Popov.
With Steve Clarke left with little option but to withdraw Romelu Lukaku and replace the striker with Liam Ridgewell, Albion's attacking threat diminished and there was a sense of inevitability that Spurs would find a way through at the other end. Gareth Bale delivered the winning goal, the Welshman's brilliant strike leaving Clarke to pick up the pieces from a chastening game that also included an unsavoury incident involving Jonas Olsson, who appeared to gesture angrily at the Albion fans following a misplaced pass in the second half.
Although Clarke said he never witnessed Olsson's reaction to the crowd, the Albion head coach made no attempt to conceal his anger with Popov, the 28-year-old defender who is on a season-long loan from Dynamo Kyiv. "The game changed with the sending off. I'm absolutely disgusted with Goran's behaviour. One of the group has let the players down," Clarke said.
"There's no excuse for that. There's no place for it in life, never mind on a football pitch. I haven't had a one-on-one discussion with Goran, we spoke about it after the game as a group. I would like to think that at some stage he will apologise."
Popov, who will automatically receive a three-match suspension, will be disciplined internally, with the defender set to be fined the maximum two weeks' wages. On the back of Odemwingie's antics, it was just about the last thing Clarke needed. "To be honest, it's been a difficult week for us," he said. "I'm angry today because I thought it was a game where we could get a positive result to get us back on an even keel. That's why the events at the start of the second half are so disappointing for us because we felt this was a chance to get our season back on track."
Instead, Albion were left to lament the continuation of a worrying run of form that is fast erasing the memory of their excellent start to the season. This latest defeat means they have picked up only one point from a possible 18 and won only two out of their last 14 fixtures in all competitions.
As well as the poor results, Clarke must decide how to deal with the headache that is Odemwingie, who was not in the squad for the Spurs game, on the back of the QPR fiasco, but will need to be reintegrated at some point, in part to protect his transfer value but also to restore some penetration to Albion's forward play.
In the meantime, the Nigerian seems to be keeping himself busy as Albion's unofficial club spokesperson. In a bizarre twist, in keeping with a rather surreal week at The Hawthorns, Popov apologised for his conduct, via Odemwingie on Twitter.
"Just had Popov, the Albion man, on phone," Odemwingie tweeted. "He is not on twitter but asked me to pass a message to Albion fans that he is sorry for the red card, sorry for letting the team and the fans down. All players worked very hard and his mistake cost the team three points. What happened to Goran happens once in years. He was the player of the month last month. That's life. Ups and downs."