West Bromwich Albion 1 Leeds United 0
Carlos Corberán’s Albion rose to the occasion in front of the biggest attendance of the season at the Hawthorns to record a victory over Leeds United. It may not have been the most sparkling attacking display but it was a determined defensive performance that produced a twelfth clean sheet of the season and a deserved three points.
The visitors may have dominated possession with 63%, but they failed to really test Alex Palmer with Sumerville’s curling shot that the Baggies stopper palmed away the only attempt on target that Daniel Farke’s team could muster. The organisation and work rate exhibited by the entire team, not just the defence, was excellent, forcing Leeds to largely rely on long range efforts and balls over the top that almost exclusively failed to breach a superbly disciplined offside trap.
On one of the rare occasions the trap was breached, and it looked very close, Willy Gnonto was put through and went down under a challenge from Cédric Kipré that could have been given as a penalty – referee Graham Scott, not the best of Championship officials in my book, failed to award it and, while there was definitely an arm around Gnonto’s body, it’s not clear whether it was enough to bring the Italian international down. So while that incident might be considered a stroke of luck for the Baggies, there have been enough that have gone against them this season, not least the two challenges that have reduced Josh Maja’s season to a handful of appearances.
While it was Albion’s defensive brilliance that kept Leeds at bay, they did create a fair few opportunities of their own and were able to take one to score that all-important first goal. Kipré may well have opened the scoring earlier when he directed the ball goalwards after visiting ‘keeper, Karl Darlow, flapped at a corner, but Spence was on the line to clear – Okay then fired the follow up over the bar when he really should have done better. The Turk more than made up for that error when he threaded a ball in between the full back and centre back to put Wallace in on the byline, and the skipper’s pull back was perfectly place for Dianagana – the Congolese international’s first shot was blocked by Rodon, but the ball came back to him and he was able to adjust to direct the ball home with his knee. It was not the case that it just hit him, it was a deliberate action to get his knee to the ball, and he was able to find the back of the net.
After the break, with Leeds finding no joy in penetrating the Albion defence, Farke withdrew both full backs and Gnonto, bringing on the dangerous Dan James introduced along with Jaidon Anthony on the other wing and Patrick Bamford up front. It was effectively a front six for the visitors but with Corberán bringing on Bartley to switch to a back three shortly afterwards, Albion remained just as resolute. Semi Ajayi, who will shortly be heading off to AFCON with Nigeria, was superb on only his second start since September, while Cédric Kipré, who Ivory Coast have thankfully omitted from their squad, was also excellent winning header after header as the crosses rained in in the closing stages. Both full backs were also on fine form ably supported by their midfield teammates as they doubled up on Leeds’ dangerous wingers time and again with their most effective player this season, Summerville, kept largely quiet.
Okay and Mowatt were excellent in the middle of the park while Molumby, effectively playing as a number ten, never stopped running to keep the pressure on the Leeds’ back line. A mention should also go to BTA who worked and worked throughout the match – there were some “supporters” behind me constantly criticising him, such as for losing the ball when surrounded by three players, and I just don’t understand their viewpoint. Not only does he give everything, and has improved immeasurably since he has been at the club, he is the only option we currently have as a centre forward and, in my opinion, is doing a fantastic job in the circumstances.
One slight concern was an injury to Jed Wallace that forced him off with 20 minutes to go, but Corberán is hopeful that it is not serious.
While this may have been Leeds’ third defeat in five games, it was a statement victory for Corberán’s team and they will head into the New Year full of confidence. While at least two of the squad will disappear shortly for AFCON, there is the prospect that Daryl Dike will return to the team soon and the hope that Mark Miles and his team can add to the squad in some way in the January transfer window. And then, of course, we are all hopeful of the long-awaited takeover.
2023 has seen Albion recover from a very difficult position and, while they are not out of the woods yet, the prospects for 2024 are much brighter and promotion back to the Premier League looks like a very real possibility.