Coventry City 1 West Brom 2
After four winless games and almost five hours without a goal, Albion travelled to the CBS Arena, one of the toughest places to go in the Championship this season, on Saturday lunchtime and came away with all three points.
It was the Baggies’ first away win since September and, with Fulham and Bournemouth finishing all square on Friday night, and QPR losing at home Stoke City on Sunday, it moves them back into third place and to within six points of the automatic promotion places.
The Frenchman surprised us all by selecting Taylor Gardner-Hickman as Alex Mowatt’s midfield partner, and the youngster replied his head coach’s faith with a man-of-the-match performance. With Matt Phillips picking up an injury in training and out-of-favour Robert Snodgrass apparently suffering from a convenient back injury, Ismaël didn’t have a huge amount of choice but Gardner-Hickman proved to be the correct selection and the 19-year-old can be very proud of his display.
It was an excellent first half performance from Valérien Ismaël’s team. With Mark Robins’ team playing out from the back, they played into the hands of Albion’s high press and lost the ball in their own half on numerous occasions. Albion had a couple of decent opportunities to take the lead before Karlan Grant finally broke the Baggies’ goalscoring drought with a calm finish after being put through by Callum Robinson.
More chances came and went in that first half before an unexpected short throw routine resulted in the ball ending up in the net via a few deflections, one of which appeared to come off Cédric Kipré’s arm. While it may have been a lucky break for Albion, a 2-0 lead was the least that they deserved.
The second half was a very different game. It appeared to me that the front players had been instructed not to use the press that had brought them their success before the break. As a result, Coventry were able to play out from the back easily and as the half went on, they grew in confidence and the Baggies came under increasing pressure.
Albion defended well but it wasn’t a surprise when Coventry scored what was their first goal against the Baggies at their new stadium, although the nature of the goal was unusual – it was just the second goal Albion have conceded from a set piece all season.
It was set up for a barnstorming finish but the visitors held out fairly comfortably and deservedly took the victory.
As good as the result was, I still find it strange that there was no press in the second half. I feel that had Albion continued to play in the same way after the break, they could have easily scored more goals – as it was, they simply handed the initiative to Coventry and the second period was, as a result, far less comfortable. I guess Ismaël had his reasons, but it’s not obvious to me what they were.
Nonetheless, it was a massive three points and Albion’s next five fixtures are all against clubs currently in the bottom seven of the Championship starting with a home match with Reading on Saturday. That represents a massive opportunity to regain momentum and narrow the gap to the top two.