West Bromwich Albion 1 Norwich City 0
After a disappointing performance at the Riverside on Saturday, Albion returned to form at the Hawthorns on Boxing Day and recorded a victory against Norwich City that was far closer than it should have been. That the Baggies somehow didn’t secure the victory with a second goal meant that it needed an excellent save from Alex Palmer late on to ensure that the three points were safe.
The statistics paint a picture of the domination that the hosts enjoyed – almost 75% possession, 21 attempts at goal and 12 corners. However, that only three of those attempts were on target points to where the real deficiency in Carlos Corberán’s squad lies. Wallace and Swift were both on excellent form, and they created lots of opportunities, but far too often the finish was wayward or a defender was on hand to cut out the final ball, or block the shot. It took some determination from Grady Diangana to get something on Wallace’s cross – it looked as if it went off his back – and a real poachers instinct from Brandon Thomas-Asante to get the goal than Albion’s superiority deserved.
That was BTA’s third goal in five games that have moved him to the top of Albion’s scoring charts and his Championship tally of seven goals matches the total he achieved in the whole of last season. However, he needs support and the return of Daryl Dike cannot come soon enough, particularly given that there must be a good chance that Thomas-Asante will be heading off to AFCON with Ghana in a couple of weeks. Furthermore, the number of good crossing positions that Wallace and, to a lesser extent, Diangana and Townsend were able to get into, they were crying out for someone with more of an aerial presence in the box.
Albion’s dominance was apparent before Borja Sainz was sent off for a second yellow card received for petulantly indicating that an Albion player should be booked. It had an impact on how the game played out, particularly given David Wagner’s decision to bring on two more centre halves at the break, but I don’t think it was a pivotal moment. Sainz had been responsible for the visitors’ best moments in the first half, but the Baggies were well on top anyway and could have easily been two or three goals up at the break. John Swift struck one wonderful volley onto the post and uncharacteristically miscued a finish when well placed from another Wallace cut back, while there were plenty of other promising moments that just didn’t quite come off.
In the second half, it was a different challenge and for the first twenty minutes or so, it was almost complete domination as Norwich opted to sit back and frustrate. The plan was punctured only five minutes after the break with BTA’s goal, but it wasn’t until the last fifteen minutes when City opted to push forward and try to find an equaliser. To be fair to Wagner’s side, I think they defended well and were able to get an important foot in on numerous occasions when it looked as if Albion would break through, and they were particularly good at keeping their opponents at bay from set pieces, albeit you could argue that the delivery was rarely on the mark. That resilience kept them in the game and were it not for a fine reaction save from Alex Palmer in the dying minutes, they might have grabbed a point they’d have scarcely deserved.
While Swift and Wallace stood out, I thought Yokuşlu was also excellent in the middle of the park – his ability to retain possession when under pressure makes him a key figure in the Albion midfield. Most others put in a good shift albeit Semi Ajayi gave us a few heart-stopping moments when he came on and Grady Diangana looks to have lost a little confidence of late and seems less willing to take his man on.
Palmer’s late save ensured his eleventh clean sheet in 24 games, two more than any other Championship team has recorded this season, and we will all be hoping for a twelfth on Friday evening, which would hopefully lead to another three points.