West Brom 2 Wigan Athletic 0
Albion made it six wins from the last eight games by deservedly beating the Latics at the Hawthorns on Boxing Day, although it was not an entirely comfortable afternoon.
An early goal from what was the Baggies first serious attack should have set Darren Moore’s team off an running as it did at Rotherham last weekend, but their momentum was immediately halted by an injury to Dwight Gayle.
While Albion dominated the game and never really looked like conceding, they lacked fluidity in the attacking third and there was always the chance that Wigan could snatch an undeserved equaliser at least until J-Rod thumped in his second.
Ironically, Paul Cook’s men looked far more dangerous once they went two down and they could have easily nicked one which would have made the closing stages uncomfortable, but the Albion defence stood firm for once although a better quality opposition would almost certainly have found a way through.
For the most part, however, the Latics were happy to disrupt with a physical approach to the game that was not really handled that well by the officials – how Wigan escaped with just two yellow cards, I’m not sure.
It may be a strange thing to say given that he scored both goals, but Rodriguez did not have his best game. Both finishes were excellent, with his second, a volley from 20 yards, was as sweet as they come, and he was perhaps unfortunate not to complete his hat trick with the Latics having to resort to some last ditch blocks to keep him out. However, he looked a little bit off the pace for much of the game with his touch letting him down on a number of occasions, and he perhaps could do with rest. That is probably less likely following Gayle’s hamstring injury which could easily keep him out for several weeks.
Ultimately, though, it’s goals that count and a brace today made it twelve for the season for J-Rod and a bid from his home town club, Burnley, is almost inevitable next month.
Harvey Barnes had one of those in-and-out games but frequently looked dangerous, while Phillips had his moments but faded badly in the last 15 minutes.
Gareth Barry, on the other hand, belied his age and was once again superb in the middle of the park for the full ninety minutes. There must, however, be some concern as to whether he will be able to play twice more in the next week and, if not, how the team may be impacted by his absence.
As they did at the DW Stadium, as well as taking a physical approach, Paul Cook’s team pressed high and Albion often struggled to play out. Adarabioyo, who has generally played well in recent weeks, had a difficult afternoon and particularly struggled late on when Phillips’ ability to support him fading. He also gave the ball away a little too frequently, although he was often put under undue pressure with some difficult balls out from Johnstone. Having said that, he has normally been good enough to cope in those situations up to now, so maybe we just need to put it down to an off day. Nonetheless, Tosin isn’t a natural right back and it remains a problem position that needs to be resolved in January.
While it was ultimately a comfortable victory for the Baggies, it all felt a little flat at the Hawthorns. Whether the fans were suffering from Christmas over-indulgence, I’m not sure, but despite there being more than 25,000 in attendance, it was never really rocking. It could be a case that the faithful are now expecting entertainment at the Hawthorns and, with the team misfiring slightly, it didn’t quite get the juices flowing, but as Darren Moore said in his Christmas message, the fans are a massive part of any promotion push and sometimes it’s down to us to inspire the team.
All in all, of course, it was a good day for the Baggies. Two stoppage time goals apiece for the top two did take the shine off a little, but it’s difficult to complain with the team on a run of 20 points from the last 24 as we look forward to the last game of 2018.
A final word to mark twelve months since we tragically lost Richard Eades at the age of just 42. Eadesy, better known as Albi, one of the Albion mascots, died on Boxing Day morning last year, and it was great to hear applause on the the 42nd minute of the Wigan game to remember him. I wrote a short article about him last year, and his loss is still sorely felt by his family and friends, including his best mate, Dave Challoner, known to most as Baggie Bird.