West Brom 4 Sheffield United 0
If the impressive first hour against Luton Town on Saturday was tempered by the travails of the last twenty minutes, last night’s display against Sheffield United will have gone a long way to blowing away any doubts Baggies fans have been harbouring about Val-ball.
Only time will tell whether such a comprehensive victory against one of the pre-season promotion favourites will be more than “just another victory” come the end of the season but, whether or not the Blades’ poor form is temporary, Albion certainly took advantage.
It was a demonstration of commitment and intensity and it completely blew Jokanović’s team away – the visitors looked completely shell-shocked and could already have been two down before Albion did score were it not for an eagle-eyed assistant referee and a somewhat debateable “foul” by Kyle Bartley (although Robinson would have been offside again). The constant harrying by the front three created countless opportunities, either in the form of set pieces or winning the ball close to the opposition box and, had the score been 4-0 by half time, United couldn’t have complained.
Darnell Furlong may have created the headlines with his long throws, but special mentions must go to Alex Mowatt for his boundless energy and quality delivery, Matt Clarke and Dara O’Shea for peerless performances in both boxes, and Callum Robinson for setting the tone along the front line. Conor Townsend is also worthy of praise – having had a difficult day on Saturday, he emerged for this match with a bandaged head but showed no signs of not being fit and was back to the consistently high level of performance we have come to expect from him.
The heavy workload on the players did begin to take its toll in the second half, but the three-goal burst just after half time allowed Ismaël to make changes without threatening the result. While against Luton, the changes coincided with a drop off in intensity, there were no such problems on Wednesday evening. Phillips was full of energy and, while we ended up with O’Shea in midfield and Townsend as one of the back three, there wasn’t a notable disruption to the shape – having said that, I think the opposition had surrendered by then. As the Sheffield Star reporter, James Shield, put in his match report, it was “a contest so one-sided there was an argument for stopping it on humanitarian grounds.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance, however – the visitors really should have equalised within a minute of Albion’s opener but McGoldrick shot well wide when presented a clear chance following a mistake by Bartley, but I still feel that the hosts would have still gone on to win comfortably. Before that, only a timely, and excellent, intervention from O’Shea prevented Billy Sharp from having an attempt on goal after Furlong’s clearance put the defence under pressure. The only other real chance that United had was when John Egan found himself unmarked in the box for a secondary header and brought a decent save out of Sam Johnstone – it was his only real goalkeeping action having spent most of the game acting as a sweeper.
We still haven’t seen the best of Grady Diangana this season, but I feel he is making progress game by game. On a number of occasions, I saw him looking over his shoulder for Furlong to back him up with the high press, but I actually think the right wing back was conserving a little energy in the second half and Diangana was showing some intelligence in not pressing without the appropriate support. He was the least effective of the front three, however, and he was the first to be withdrawn.
It was good to see Adam Reach come on for the last few minutes, although disappointing that it was necessary due to an injury to Matt Clarke. Hopefully, it is just a minor knock and he will be fit for Saturday.
I thought it was interesting to see O’Shea move into midfield and Townsend to left-sided centre back as Big Val made his subtitutions. I do wonder whether he has looked at these players in training in those positions and it does highlight that the squad is still thin. Livermore needed a rest but there was no obvious replacement for him on the bench – when Ajayi came on, I expected him to slot in there, but evidently Ismaël has more confidence in the young Irishman.
Saturday was obviously a last straw for Zohore as he was left out of the squad completely, intensifying the need for a striker, with the other glaring need for cover being at right wing back. As I mentioned earlier, Furlong looked to be in conservation mode in the second half, and there is no way that he will be able to play every game at this level.
Hopefully those issues will be solved in the next couple of weeks, but for now let’s just bask in the delights of Val-ball. Top of the table with an average of three goals scored per game. I’m sure there will be more difficult challenges to come this season, but not complaints so far.