Baggies cruise to victory over Tractor Boys

West Bromwich Albion 2 Ipswich Town 0

Halfway through a run of six games against promotion rivals, the Baggies will be satisfied with six points, and should be immensely proud of a comfortable victory over Ipswich Town. Carlos Corberán found a way to stop Kieran McKenna’s side from scoring, something that no opposition coach had done for nine months, and more importantly inflicted a first away league defeat since January on the second-placed Tractor Boys, and a first defeat of any kind since August.

On the night, it looked relatively straightforward, although it was a result of excellent performances across the pitch and a tactical setup that nullified Ipswich’s strengths. As a result, the visitors did not record a single shot on target and, despite edging the possession statistics, they were not able to exert any sustained pressure on the Albion defence. The closest they came was a shot that flashed past the post in the dying minutes, but they were otherwise blunted by a superb Baggies defence ending up with a pitiful xG statistic of just 0.22.

While Albion were defensively excellent, it was as a result of a front-foot approach that kept the opposition under pressure for long periods while retaining the shape and commitment to deal with any counter-attacks. I can’t remember any occasion when Ipswich were able to get behind the Albion defence while Leif Davis, who has more assists than any other player in the country this season, had only one memorable impact on the game which was to lose Darnell Furlong ahead of the opening goal.

Cédric Kipré was outstanding at the heart of the Albion defence as Corberán stuck with a back four. It was interesting that he said in his post-match interview that the switch to a five was a response to the team’s defensive struggles in the early stages of the season, and that he has returned to a four as Albion’s defensive stability improved. Eight clean sheets from the last twelve games suggest that he has got it right.

Conor Townsend has come in for criticism from some quarters in recent weeks but I thought he was excellent on Saturday and came in for some rough treatment from the opposition players. And let’s not forget that it was his intelligent ball to Jed Wallace that kick-started the break for Albion’s second goal. As I have said before, I think that he offers so much more than Pieters from an attacking point of view and remains the best option on the left side of defence in a back four.

Furlong and Bartley were also defensively strong but, for me, the game was won further forward. Jed Wallace produced his best performance of the season; he was instrumental in the second goal and should have been rewarded with an assist when Matt Phillips somehow contrived to clear his excellent cross rather than tapping home for what would have been a deserved 3-0 lead. Phillips was otherwise very good and his corner for the opener was perfect, while Diangana was a constant threat and his finish for the second goal was exquisite.

The return of Alex Mowatt to the starting line up was both expected and welcome, and he produced another influential display. An injury to Nathaniel Chalobah means that he is likely to be out for a game or two, so we may see a little more of Jayson Molumby in the coming weeks as Corberán will be sure to do some squad rotation as the fixture list throws up a run of eight games between now and the end of the year, just five weeks away.

When I watched back the game on Sky, I noticed the commentary team questioning Corberán making changes when Albion were so in control. For me, it was entirely understandable, particularly in a three game week, and the Spaniard constantly reinforces his belief that it is a sixteen-man game. The surprise for me was that he left his changes so late in the last game at Southampton. Furthermore, it was important to give game time to the returning John Swift and Josh Maja, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or both of them start at Cardiff on Tuesday.

This was a test, and Albion passed it with flying colours – ahead of the ultimate Championship test next weekend with the visit of leaders Leicester City, they face another stern examination at in-form Cardiff City on Tuesday. Having passed under the radar for much of this campaign, this result will have raised Albion above the parapet – two more good results this week will put them firmly among the promotion contenders.

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