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Opposition Preview - West Bromwich Albion (Home)
Written by ad_wilkin on Friday, 9th Feb 2024 11:03

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was writing about a first-v-second clash. As we come into this one against West Bromwich Albion, it’s now fourth-v-fifth.

Town are on a run of poor form so one of only three teams to have beaten them in the league probably isn’t the ideal opponent. However, it is at Portman Road and Town will be backed once again by a large following.

Their last Championship performance there was an excellent win against play-off chasing Sunderland and with some positives coming out of the defeat against Preston, they’ll be looking to bounce back with another strong performance.

West Brom come into this one in reasonable form. A Christmas period saw wins over Norwich and Leeds and a 4-1 thrashing of Blackburn but also a couple of defeats to Swansea and Norwich as well as an FA Cup exit to rivals Wolves.

A late goal saw them win 1-0 at home to Birmingham in their last match but they haven’t been entirely convincing.

Previous Meeting (West Brom 2-0 Ipswich)

It was statistically quite an even match at the Hawthorns, but Town were once again undone by conceding an early goal, this time against one of the best defensive sides in the division.

West Brom started brightly with Jed Wallace flashing a ball across the Town box that Brandon Thomas-Asante was just about unable to make contact with as he dived at it head first.

That ball did, however, lead to a corner that was whipped in and Darnell Furlong made an untracked run to the near post and directed a glancing header across the goal that left the entire Town defence rooted to the spot.

The next chance of note game when Wallace threaded a ball to an unmarked Thomas-Asante in the middle of the pitch. The striker dropped his shoulder and hit a swerving shot that Vaclav Hladky got behind with both hands to palm away.

Town’s first real chance of note was when a short corner found Jack Taylor in space, but the midfielder spooned his shot way over the bar.

On 21 minutes Wes Burns found himself in space on the right-hand side to have a shot at goal. It wasn’t the best bounce but once again a Town player skied his shot way over the bar.

Three minutes later, Leif Davis finally got some space to run into, George Hirst pulled out to the left and Davis continued his run into the box to receive the ball back from Hirst and was bundled over. It would have been a soft penalty if it had been given but the referee waved it away. In hindsight Davis will surely have thought he should have just got his shot away.

The second half started a bit brighter, but Town still failed to create real chances and tried to force the issue.

That backfired when a long range Sam Morsy shot was blocked and West Brom countered with pace. Wallace brought the ball up the pitch, laid it off to Thomas-Asante who then found the overlapping Grady Diangana, who just had to roll the ball past Hladky into the net.

West Brom should have been further ahead when Wallace got in down the right again and delivered across goal. It was surely a tap-in for Matt Phillips but he somehow managed to get his feet all muddled up and stab the ball away from goal in what ended up as a great defensive clearance.

This game was one of only two games so far this season that Town failed to even have a shot on target, the other the 4-0 defeat at Elland Road.

What’s Changed

The Baggies, who have been very stable and occupied the play-off positions for the vast majority of the season, didn’t need an overhaul in January. Goals were an issue and general depth in the squad but otherwise they were looking good.

They lost Jeremy Sarmiento who will now line-up against them and sold Taylor Gardner-Hickman to Bristol City with Andreas Weimann coming the other way.

Weimann adds yet more Championship experience to a side very familiar with this level and will hope to get more games in his favoured position having been used in a deeper midfield role at Bristol City. He’s already made a difference, coming off the bench to score the winner against Birmingham.

They have also made loan moves to bring in 19-year-old Northern Irishman Callum Marshall from West Ham and 24-year-old Michael Johnston from Celtic.

Marshall is a fully-fledged Northern Irish international with three caps to his name. His record at U21 level this season is very impressive as well with 16 goals in just ten games and a further three in four Bristol Street Motors Trophy appearances.

Manager Carlos Corberan will be hoping he can take some of the goalscoring pressure off Thomas-Asante (leading scorer with nine goals) as the other strikers in the squad Daryl Dike and Josh Maja have struggled with fitness this season.

Johnston will look to take Sarmiento’s role in the squad and have an impact off the bench. Born in Glasgow but eligible to represent Ireland he has six caps for the national side and scored two goals, perhaps a surprising switch given he had represented Scotland at all youth levels prior to that.

This is the second loan of his career having spent last season out in Portugal with Vitoria Guimaraes. He has the ability to play on either wing but has spent most of his time on the left and has 13 goals and 12 assists in 92 Celtic appearances.

Key Players

Brandon Thomas-Asante (nine goals, two assists)

The Baggies' top scorer now has nine goals this season which is two better than his goal return last season already and only two off his season record of 11 for Salford in League Two (2021/22).

He’s not just a striker that finds the net, he’s also very important to West Brom’s pressing efforts, pressing from the front with nine interceptions so far this season which ranks him seventh out of all of the strikers in the league.

Jed Wallace

One of the best players on the pitch in the previous meeting between the two sides, he constantly threatened down the right-hand side with a combination of dribbling, passing and crossing. He ranks highly on crosses into the penalty area, averaging 0.9 per 90.

His corner deliveries also rank as some of the best in the league with a number of West Brom chances coming from set pieces. Despite that, surprisingly he’s only got three assists. It was Matt Phillips who took the corner that Furlong flicked in against Town.

John Swift

One of West Brom’s best players last season has struggled with injuries this time around but has still managed to net six goals so far. That said, he’s currently going through a dry spell having not scored in his last 11 appearances. In fact all of those six goals came pre-November before his injury.

He made the most key passes in the league last season but his numbers are down from 2.4 per game to 1.4 per game this season and he only has one assist as he’s failed to replicate the same form that he managed last year.

Despite that, he still ranks very highly in both pass and touch metrics with his progressive passes getting the side up the pitch. He’s underperforming his expected assists so will need to be closely watched as he still possesses the ability to unlock the Town defence.

The Teams

Having got all 22 players taking the field correct for the Preston game, I'm going for another full house. For Town, despite the defeat there is only one obvious change. Having bagged a brace off the bench Kieffer Moore is nailed on to start this one. Kayden Jackson struggled to get into the game against Preston and West Brom doesn’t suit his attributes either.

The other change that probably makes sense is Nathan Broadhead coming back into the side for Jeremy Sarmiento. Sarmiento was another who had a poor first half against Preston, overplaying when he should have kept it simple but was improved when he got more space in the second half.

With both Sarmiento and Omari Hutchinson on the bench, Town always have the ability to finish strongly and cause tiring teams problems which will be important against a West Brom side who don’t concede many goals.

Cameron Burgess will have made his return from the Asian Cup and provides a more left-sided balance that has been missing in recent games, so I can also see him slotting back in for this one on that left-hand side of defence.

For West Brom, their back five has been pretty consistent and barring injuries should be Alex Palmer, Furlong (who scored the first time these teams met), Kyle Bartley, Cedric Kipre and Conor Townsend.

Ahead of them Alex Mowatt looks to be the most likely man to partner Okay Yokuslu.

Further forwards it gets a bit trickier. Wallace and Diangana performed excellently fluidly rotating between the right wing and number ten role in the last match but Corberan won’t have that option for this one with Diangana out injured. However, Swift is now fit again and will slot into that central ten role.

He’s a different sort of player to Diangana but based on average positions in previous games, Corberan likes his front four to be fluid and constantly rotating.

On the left wing, Tom Fellows has taken his chance in the side and started the last three league games, scoring in the 4-1 win at Blackburn.

With Phillips out injured, he’s likely to continue on the left. Up front, top goalscorer Thomas-Asante will lead the line but the impact of unproved but highly-rated Callum Marshall off the bench could cause problems.

Action Areas

West Brom are notoriously hard to break down as was proved by the last match at the Hawthorns. Corberan is a meticulous coach and will have researched and drilled into his players on how to defend Town’s patterns of play.

However, the addition of Kieffer Moore could prove to be an ace up Kieran McKenna’s sleeve as he allows Town to play a different kind of way.

A few times at Portman Road Town have tried to make a fast start, getting the ball down the wings to Burns and Davis and delivering early. It’s a tactic that had success in big games last year notably away at Bolton and with Moore’s aerial prowess he should win even more balls in the air than Hirst did.

With Diangana out injured, Corberan will have to come up with slightly different tactics going forward but Wallace will again be hoping that he can cause Davis more problems than the other way round down that side.

Where Town do look to have the upper hand and more depth is on the bench with the likes of Sarmiento, Hutchinson and Marcus Harness looking to make an impact.

This has all of the hallmarks of being a tough, tight game and I think it will be one settled by a single goal. It’s not unfeasible that Town could lose three in a row but I'm optimistically going for a 1-0 win.

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rodney76 added 12:13 - Feb 9
This is an important game, not over the season as a whole, but in terms of indicating whether we are able to reverse our bad recent run of points dropping.
Of course, WBA are a strong outfit and have ambitions of their own.
Perhaps coming up against them at this point is a good thing, perhaps a bad thing, but 3 points against the Baggies will tell us more than a win against the likes of Rotherha.,
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