Leicester City today dropped he bombshell that many Baggies fans were fearing by exercising their option to recall Harvey Barnes from his loan spell at the Hawthorns and, while there is no way of dressing that news up as a positive for Albion’s season, it does present an opportunity for other players in the squad who have had limited time on the pitch this campaign.
It’s easy to forget that when Barnes joined the Albion squad in the summer, few Baggies fans knew much about him. Described as “promising” based on his spell at Barnsley last season, but still very much an unknown quantity. He announced himself on the opening day with a fine goal, and has gone on to be one of Albion’s top performers scoring nine goals during the campaign.
I’m sure Big Dave will be frustrated, particularly given that City waited until the day before a key game to exercise the option. Albion will no doubt have been preparing for the game all week with Barnes in the team, but one would hope that the possibility of the recall was considered and that a plan B is in place. It’s also a shame that the fans have not had an opportunity to thank Harvey for his stellar performances this season, but maybe we’ll get the chance to play against him next season.
I’m obviously disappointed with Leicester’s decision, but it’s better that he was with us for half a season than not at all, and I sincerely hope he gets plenty of time on the pitch for their first team between now and May.
There is no question that Darren Moore’s squad is weaker as a result of the recall, but given that he has started every Championship game this season, his form has meant that other players in the squad have not had an opportunity to impress. It may be a case of being thankful for small mercies, but it should now give players that Albion actually own the chance to shine in the first team.
For me, there are three players that could now have a chance of some more first team action. Given Moore’s preference for experience, Bakary Sako is probably the most likely to start in place of Barnes against Norwich City on Saturday. He opened his Baggies goal account in the cup last weekend, and he did well for the first hour before fading. I’d like to think that a run in the side will do wonders for both his confidence and his match fitness, and he could yet be a star this season.
Next in the list is probably Jonathan Leko. The academy graduate made his first team debut in the League Cup back in 2015 and made his Premier League debut the following April while still 16 and signed his first professional contract that summer. He made nine substitute appearances in the 2016/17 season and in August 2017, he went on loan to Bristol City.
It wasn’t the most successful spell and he returned to the Hawthorns in January having made just five starts for the Robins. Darren Moore included him in his first squad against Swansea in April, but he has only made the bench in a league once since. He has started three of Albion’s four cup ties this season, however, and scored his first senior goal against Mansfield Town in August.
Leko’s contract is up at the end of this season, and I’m sure he will be thinking about moving on if he doesn’t get more football in the remainder of the season. He doesn’t turn 20 until April, so he still has time on his side, but without regular senior football, he is not going to progress. He did well against Wigan last weekend, and I would certainly like to see him given an opportunity.
The final player that Moore should be looking at is Kyle Edwards. Of all the academy graduates in the squad, Edwards has had the most league time on the pitch having had almost half an hour as a replacement for Matt Phillips against Reading in October. He impressed me that day playing in an unfamiliar wing back position and I think he has been unfortunate to only get two substitute appearances since then, both of them against Wigan.
Edwards turns 21 next month and has had more experience of senior football than Leko, mostly whilst on loan at Exeter City last season. He made his senior debut for the Grecians in September 2017 and made 27 appearances for the Devon outfit scoring twice, the second of which was in the Play-Off Final at Wembley last May.
His senior debut for Albion was as a half time substitute in the EFL Cup against Luton in August, and he opened his goalscoring account a fortnight later against Mansfield. He has 18 months left on his contract.
With two weeks of the transfer window left, there is obviously time for Moore to bring in more attacking players, and it could be that both Leko and Edwards go out on loan, but I, personally, would like to see at least one of them given the chance of making an impact in the first team.
Edwards is potentially more versatile and has more experience, but given that Leko started the the game against Wigan in the cup, it could be that Moore sees the younger man as the better prospect.
I expect Sako to start against Norwich, but if either Edwards or Leko gets a spot on the bench, that could be indicative of Moore’s thoughts for the rest of the season.