Baggies ease into the top six

West Bromwich Albion 3 Preston North End 0

Whatever happens between now and the end of May, Carlos Corberán’s achievements since he took over the club should not be underestimated. Against a backdrop of unrest off the field, he has transformed the performances on it and guided Albion to a deserved top six finish and the chance for a return to the Premier League. Furthermore, a team challenging for the top six was a much better prospect for potential buyers than one struggling at the other end of the table, and that can only have helped the biggest positive of the season, the change in ownership.

Unlike some, I was pretty confident going into this match that Albion would do what was necessary. Three successive defeats was obviously a disappointing run of results, but only last week’s debacle at Hillsborough was a poor overall performance with the display at Leicester City and in the first half against Sunderland before BTA’s dismissal were strong enough to demonstrate that form had not completely deserted Coberán’s team.

The same could not be said of the visitors, however, and it showed on the day as Albion completely dominated the game. North End apparently managed one shot on target, but I can’t remember it, while the hosts could easily have been two up before Mowatt scored his second goal of the season, both of which have come against Preston.

If there is one thing that has dogged Albion all season, it is the lack of a clinical number nine. Top scorer, Brandon Thomas-Asante, has twelve goals for the season but I’m sure that even he will admit that he should be closer to twenty given the chances he has had, and he probably should have had two against Preston. I’m not criticising BTA – he has been a superb signing given where he came from and the transfer fee, and he is undoubtedly a better player than when he joined. Furthermore, injuries mean that he has been the Baggies’ only striker for most of his time at the club. However, had Dike or Maja, or both, been fit for most of this season, I wonder how close to the top two Albion might have been.

Against Preston, it was another player who has come in for some unfair criticism, in my opinion, who was the star of the show having a hand in all three goals. Darnell Furlong won the penalty going down under a challenge from Liam Lindsay, produced trademark long throw that Kyle Bartley somehow managed to guide into the net and then fired home the third after excellent work from fellow full back, Connor Townsend. Cédric Kipré deservedly won the supporters’ and players’ player of the season awards, but I think Furlong has had his best season in an Albion shirt. actually have him head of Kipré in their statistical analysis of players’ performances this season, with Mikey Johnston top-rated albeit he has only been at the club since January. Furlong is the only outfield player to have featured in every Championship game this season, starting 44 of the 46 games, and his five goals for the campaign is by far the best return of his career.

There were plenty of other good performances from the Albion team. Johnston and Diangana both performed well and BTA’s link up and hold up play was excellent. Fellows and Townsend also offered some good work in attacking areas while Mowatt and Okay kept things ticking along neatly in the middle of the park. Defensively, Albion were rarely challenged with Kipré and Bartley having one of their most comfortable afternoons of the season.

Next Sunday will be a very different challenge as they face one of only four Championship teams to have won at the Hawthorns this season. Corberán’s task for this week is to plan how to ensure that the Baggies head to the south coast a week on Friday with an advantage. Albion produced the one final push to secure the top six finish, now it is time to go beyond and try to get back to Wembley for the first time since 2008.

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