Please log in or register. Registered visitors get fewer ads.
Baggies quietly putting together strong play-off push - Interview
Tuesday, 5th Mar 2024 16:50 by Clive Whittingham

It's proving to be another season to further the reputation of West Brom manager Carlos Corberan as the Baggies quietly go about cementing their play-off place while the chat and coverage is largely being focused elsewhere - Matt Graham says that's all just the way he likes it.

How’s the season been so far for West Brom?

I don’t think we could have asked for much more at this stage of the season, against the backdrop of all the off-field uncertainty which, until last week, loomed large over the club. I can’t stress enough how much of an existential threat there was to the very existence of West Brom. The news of a new ownership structure, ending the ruinous tenure of Lai, is the most positive element of the season so far.

On the pitch, the team is playing well, and currently we have a little bit of breathing space in the playoffs, which is probably more than could have been anticipated at the start of the season. Following my previous review, I noted that we needed to improve our consistency to challenge for the top six places; this has certainly happened since we last played QPR back in October. The only caveat here is that while the home form is superb, our away form still isn’t great. The team did successfully negotiate a tricky run of fixtures across January and February against several promotion challengers, only losing once against Southampton, which has provided a strong platform for the last third of the season.

It has been an enormously encouraging campaign that has exceeded many initial expectations.

Baggies in the league…
Blackburn 2-1 West Brom Markanday 20, Leonard 22 – Phillips 50
West Brom 3-2 Swansea Ajayi 18, Rushworth og 50, Swift pen 64 – Darling 74, Wood 80
Leeds 1-1 West Brom Ayling 72 – Thomas-Asante 52
West Brom 4-2 Boro Kipre 22, Swift 28, Thomas-Asante 47, Sarmiento 90 – Lath 29, Forss 85
West Brom 1-2 Huddersfield Swift 52 – Burgzorg 33, Rudoni 90
Bristol City 0-0 West Brom
Watford 2-2 West Brom Ince 3, Martins 23 – Swift 14, Wallace 17
West Brom 0-0 Millwall
Preston 0-4 West Brom Furlong 4, Mowatt 29, Phillips 62, Bartley 87
West Brom 1-0 Sheff Wed Swift 13
Birmingham 3-1 West Brom Bacuna pen 23, Sanderson 38, Gardner 87 – Swift 5
West Brom 0-0 Plymouth
West Brom 2-0 QPR Thomas-Asante pen 59, Diangana 68
Coventry 0-2 West Brom Diangana 17, Thomas-Asante 69
West Brom 3-1 Hull Wallace 14, Phillips 65, Ajayi 71 – Coyle 41
Southampton 2-1 West Brom Smallbone 5, A Armstrong 79 – Bartley 65
West Brom 2-0 Ipswich Furlong 5, Diangana 47
Cardiff 0-1 West Brom Sarmiento 50
West Brom 1-2 Leicester Maja 89 – Dewsbury-Hall 72, Winks 90
Sunderland 2-1 West Brom Ballard 70, Neill 84 – Thomas-Asante 86
Rotherham 0-2 West Brom Diangana 54, Wallace 90
West Brom 1-1 Stoke Thomas-Asante 35 – Gooch 12
Middlesbrough 1-0 West Brom Rogers 40
West Brom 1-0 Norwich Thomas-Asante 50
West Brom 1-0 Leeds Diangana 37
Swansea 1-0 West Brom Cullen 55
West Brom 4-1 Blackburn Fellows 11, Thomas-Asante 30, 63, Hyam og 33 – Garrett 60
Norwich 2-0 West Brom Sargent 13, Rowe 71
West Brom 1-0 Birmingham Weimann 85
Ipswich 2-2 West Brom Broadhead 46, Hutchinson 90 – Fellows 18, Swift 76
West Brom 2-0 Cardiff Johnston 1, Weimann 80
West Brom 0-2 Southampton Fraser 14, Brooks 73
Plymouth 0-3 West Brom Kipre 61, Johnston 76
Hull 1-1 West Brom Carvalho 35 – Furlong 43
West Brom 2-1 Coventry Johnston 6, Diangana 36 – Wright pen 73

Going under the radar a little bit, not hearing much chat about you guys, but well in the play off picture and playing well, how confident are you?

The longer West Brom stay under the radar the better. The team plays in an extremely organised way out of possession and looks to hit teams on the counter-attack, which doesn’t catch the eye of many outside observers, in the way Hull City or Southampton have done. The lack of hype is a good thing. We’re on a strong run of form, and the team is currently playing some decent football. The final 11 games look very kind, because we only have fixtures against two of the current top ten, and we still have to play all of the bottom four, which should ensure we keep on picking up points (although knowing Albion we’ll probably make it harder than it should be). As it stands, I now fully expect West Brom to be in the playoffs at the end of the season.

Corberan assessment?
I genuinely think Carlos Corberan is the best West Brom manager since Tony Mowbray was in charge in the late 00s. Without him in charge, I cannot envisage this team being anywhere near the playoffs. As manager he has transformed what was a demoralised and dysfunctional squad under Steve Bruce, and turned them into a fit, counter-pressing, and highly organised side. The players have wholeheartedly bought into his ethos and the commitment can be seen on the pitch. Those players that supporters thought would be jettisoned in the summer have flourished under his guidance, such as Cedric Kipre and Alex Mowatt, who have been the linchpins of the side. West Brom have not bought a single player for a fee (not withstanding wages for frees/loans), but Corberan has demonstrated what quality coaching can achieve. Corberan’s attention to detail is excellent; he studies the opposition intensely and tweaks the line-up and formation before and within matches, that highlights his tactical nous. Persuading him to be the West Brom manager was the most important decision of the last two years, and he is vital to our ongoing success.

New owner - good news or another chancer?

Thank goodness the Guochuan Lai era is over. The club has suffered the ongoing nightmare of financial meltdown due to the lack of investment, disinterest from afar, funds withdrawn to pay for Lai’s non-football businesses, unpaid debts, and enormous venture capital loans to keep the football club alive. Anyone who wanted to clean up that mess to prevent administration was going to be seen as a saviour. Thankfully, some of the more egregious names that were touted as potential owners did not materialise. The new owner, Shilen Patel, is a US entrepreneur, who from the initial reports and interviews ticks all the right boxes. In his first official interview after becoming the majority shareholder he said all the right things about the history of the club, the importance of community, and the need for strong strategic leadership. There isn’t a promise to throw millions at the club, but rather an offer of stability and to implement a long-term vision for the club as an established Premier League side. Importantly there is a renewed sense of optimism from supporters, but also club officials. Perhaps an encouraging sign is that Patel has been a shareholder at Serie A Bologna since 2014, so there is already an existing knowledge of how to operate/run a football club, and hopefully these experiences, especially around intelligent recruitment, can be translated to West Brom. At this moment, all the signs would indicate that this a good move for West Brom and it ends several years of financial uncertainty.

What was done in January? What was left undone?

A major bonus from January was the squad was kept intact. The takeover hadn’t been announced, so there was a fear, like the summer, that any reasonable bids would be accepted to provide funds for the club. Thankfully, no permanent first team players were sold. An unexpected moment at the beginning of January was that Jeremy Sarmiento was recalled by Brighton and Hove Albion, and then immediately loaned to promotion rivals Ipswich, which caused some consternation. However, it was not the catastrophe that was anticipated. Not only did it create an opportunity for Tom Fellows to get more game time, which he has seized, but Sarmiento’s direct replacement, Mickey Johnston signed on loan from Celtic, has been in sparkling form.

A core problem for West Brom this season has been the lack of strikers, who have all been seriously injured at one stage or another, and they haven’t really been fully replaced/covered. The second year long injury to Daryl Dike, who ruptured his achilles again was heartbreaking to see, and his anticipated return has left a significant gap. The loan signing of Andreas Weimann from Bristol City, has worked out well so far, offering an alternative option up front, and he has already chipped in with a couple of important goals. We have also acquired highly rated West Ham striker Callum Marshall to add some depth from the bench. Finally, midfielder Yann M’Villa was signed on a free transfer to cover for the injured Jayson Molumby, although he is yet to play as he builds up match fitness.

All in all, it was a solid window, that added strength and depth to the squad, and allows for Corberan to make tactical changes off the bench, something that was sorely lacking over the Christmas period.

Summer Ins >>> Josh Maja, 24, CF, Bordeaux, Free >>> Jeremy Sarmiento, 21, AM, Brighton Loan >>> Pipa, 25, RB, Ludogrets, Loan

Summer Outs >>> Dara O’Shea, 24, CB, Burnley, £7m >>> Jake Livermore, 33, DM, Watford, Free >>> Tom Rogic, 30, CM, Released >>> Kean Bryan, 26, CB, Released >>> Karlan Grant, 25, CF, Cardiff, Loan >>> Zac Ashworth, 20, LB, Bolton, Loan >>> David Button, 34, GK, Reading, Free >>> Taylor Gardner-Hickman, 21, RB, Bristol City, Loan >>> Ethan Ingram, 20, RB, Salford, Loan

Winter Ins >>> Andy Weimann, 32, AM, Bristol City, Loan p/x >>> Mikey Johnston, 24, LW, Celtic, Loan >>> Callum Marshall, 19, CF, West Ham, Loan >>> Yann M’Vila, 33, DM, Unattached, Free

Winter Outs >>> Taylor Gardner-Hickman, 22, CM, Bristol City, £1m p/x >>> Caleb Taylor, 21, CB, Bolton, Loan

Player of the year candidates?
There are three standout players this season.

After being sent on loan to Cardiff City last season, it looked like Cedric Kipre’s Albion career was over. However, he has been incredible, and has played a significant role in the team’s defensive solidity, as well as being able to play it out from the back. Likewise, Alex Mowatt, also bombed out by Steve Bruce to Middlesborough, has been a dynamic metronome in the midfield, providing an effective link between defence and attack, as well as providing plenty of chances for the forwards. Finally, Okay Yokuşlu is an integral player, and an absolute Rolls Royce of a midfielder in the Championship, breaking up play, and allowing the flair players to shine. The team is significantly weaker when Yokuşlu doesn’t play.

Honourable mentions go to academy graduates Alex Palmer and Tom Fellows who have had phenomenal seasons, and captain Jed Wallace continues to be a leader on the pitch.

Weak links?

As mentioned previously, we are seriously lacking upfront. Brandon Thomas-Asante works hard and leads the line well, as well as chips in with some excellent goals, but he doesn’t score enough given the number of chances he gets. However, Thomas-Asante has been out for the last few weeks, which has resulted in West Brom lining up without a recognised striker, usually with Wallace filling in.

The fullbacks are decent going forward, but they can be caught out with diagonal balls, which has resulted in the team conceding several goals from overloads at the back post. Townsend and Furlong have perhaps unfairly been the target for supporters’ criticism when things aren’t going well.

Revised expectations for the season?

I predicted midtable at the start of the season, and even in October I thought that was still the most realistic expectation. However, the team has gelled nicely, we’re playing well, and the club has been solidly in the playoffs since before Christmas. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t now finish in a playoff position.

Links >>> Official Website >>> Independent West Brom forum — Message Board >>> Boing — Blog >>> Express and Star — Local Paper >>> Birmingham Mail — Local Paper

The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords, @SAhistoryMatt

Pictures — Action Images

Action Images

Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.

TacticalR added 18:56 - Mar 6
Thanks to Matt.

I get why you are happy with staying under the radar, especially when teams that were riding high earlier in the season (e.g. Sunderland) have fallen down the table.

Interesting the way Corberán has been able to organise the team without much in the way of new players.

You need to login in order to post your comments

Queens Park Rangers Polls

About Us Contact Us Terms & Conditions Privacy Cookies Advertising
© FansNetwork 2024