West Brom 3 Swansea City 0
The Baggies finally recorded their first home league victory of 2019 with what would appear to be a comfortable victory over Swansea, but was, in reality, anything but.
The visitors had almost 70% possession and an expected goals figure of 2.74, highlighting the fact that the result somewhat flattered Albion. Sam Johnstone made some remarkable saves to keep the Swans out, although he should have really been given no chance with one or two, and Bersant Celina missed a penalty in a truly comical fashion.
Two of the biggest criticisms of the final days of Darren Moore were that Gayle was playing out wide, and the determination to play out from the back was costing the team goals. Jimmy Shan addressed both of these as Gayle played as a loan striker in a 4-5-1 formation, and there were many more direct balls.
I don’t think the direct tactic worked that well until Hal Robson-Kanu came on in the second half. Gayle didn’t have his best game, but he is not, in my opinion, suited to play with his back to goal. When HRK came on for the ineffective Jacob Murphy, the direct balls could be aimed at him, and his hold up play is one of his strengths.
The reduction in playing football at the back certainly allowed the fans to concentrate on the best side of Sam Johnstone’s game, his shot-stopping, and, boy, did he need to be good. He made three great saves in the first half, but the best one was in the second half from Nordfeldt at close range. He kept up his impressive record of only having beaten by one penalty in an Albion shirt, although he didn’t need to save Celina’s as he slipped when attempting a Panenca and the ball when two yards to the right and was cleared by a laughing Chris Brunt.
In re-introduction of Brunt in midfield was, for me, the main difference. Had it not been for Johnstone’s heroics between the posts, the skipper would have been a clear man of the match. He controlled the play in the middle of the park, scored one and made one. His set piece delivery was excellent, and it shows what we miss when he isn’t in the side. Whether he can produce such performances game in game out remains questionable, but he certainly justified his recall on Wednesday.
Livermore produced a typical hard working performance while Rekeem Harper showed some great touches on the ball, but still doesn’t work hard enough out of possession for me. One thing that didn’t quite work was putting Rodriguez wide left. He played well but was too often drawn out of position and it left Townsend exposed on occasion. Albion’s stand-in left back played well from an attacking point of view, but was caught out once or twice defensively and, on another day, those errors could have led to goals.
Along with Brunt, the other outfield player who stood out was Ahmed Hegazi. He is becoming a very important player for the back line and he is much missed when absent. In what became a very defensive performance, he marshalled the defence superbly and seemed to be in the right place at the right time again and again.
Albion were better but they could have easily conceded two or three goals before half time. The defence was improved after the break as they allowed Swansea to play the ball in front of them, and the Nordfelft chance was the only time they really broke through. I thought the Baggies looked sharper in the middle chasing down the second balls, but the passing was still a little too slow on occasion.
I’m not sure the improved performance can be used as a justification for Moore’s sacking, but it’s a step in the right direction.