West Brom 3 Peterborough United 0
It may have been a comfortable victory in the end, but that doesn’t go anywhere near telling the complete story of this match and the result alone will not satisfy some when it comes to the future of the head coach. However, it was Ismaël’s substitutions that turned the match with Robinson and Diangana’s impact from the bench proving pivotal.
With fifteen minutes to go, the atmosphere inside the Hawthorns was flat with the potential to turn toxic. Albion had dominated the match completely but seemed to have run out of ideas. New hope, Daryl Dike, had missed three presentable chances before being taken off injured, and a few disenchanted supporters were expressing their dislike of Valérien Ismaël’s tactics in no uncertain terms.
With Diangana having looked bright since he came on for the stricken Dike, Big Val once again turned to his bench and there was some surprise when the Frenchman opted to swap a defender for a forward bringing on Callum Robinson for Matt Clarke, although the follow up substitution of Molumby for Phillips meant that Townsend dropped into the back three with Reach moving out to wing back.
However, Robinson offered something different up front and soon Albion had a breakthrough. From a corner, the ball broke to Furlong and his shot hit Kipré and deflected into the corner of the net for the Frenchman’s first goal in an Albion shirt.
As is often the case, goals change games. Having been content to sit back and defend until that point, Peterborough were finally forced to go in search of a goal, while the entire Albion side seemed to be much more confident and bright in possession.
Robinson provided the assists for both Grant’s and Diangana’s goals with the control and finish by the former West Ham man an exquisite display of the talent we know he has but has rarely shown this season. Hopefully this will be a turning point for him and the rest of the Albion team.
It could have been so much different had Dike put away the chance he had inside ten minutes. A neat move saw Furlong get to the byline and his cross for the American was perfect but the header was a foot wide of the far post. He had another chance halfway through the first half when Livermore’s shot fell for him, but his side-footed effort was saved by Benda in the Posh goal.
That Dike had not played much football in the past couple of months was undoubtedly a factor in him not taking those chances, as was the injury he picked up in the second half. He walked off the field unaided so the hope is that it is not too serious albeit Ismaël has already ruled him out of this week’s two matches.
The American did make a difference when he was on the field, occupying positions that Albion’s other forwards do not and moving intelligently, and had he taken one of those chances, the atmosphere in the stands, and on the pitch, would have been much different.
Having said that, I felt that the wide forwards weren’t close enough to him most of the time. Without the need to do much defending, the width in attacking areas should be left to the wing backs, but I felt that both Grant and Phillips were drifting wide too often leaving Dike isolated. I felt this changed when Diangana came on as he was much less tied to the right wing than Phillips and it certainly gave the Posh defence a different problem. The irony is that I think Grady is much more effective as a wide player, but in this match he proved very useful in more of an inside forward role.
There is no doubt that Albion deserved to win this match. All the statistics back that up from 63% possession, 27 shots to 1, 6 shots on target to none, to an xG tally of about 4 for the Baggies to not much more than zero for Peterborough. But that would have been meaningless had they not found that all important breakthrough.
That they did means that this could prove to be a huge turning point for Albion’s season and for Ismaël’s Hawthorns career. The huddle that the players formed after the full time whistle is a demonstration that the players are united and still fighting for their head coach, and they have the opportunity to back this result up with another victory over Preston North End on Wednesday evening.
It will not quieten Val’s harshest critics, and I was as flat as everyone else before the late rally, but confidence can be a huge factor in football and with Diangana, Grant and Robinson all playing a significant part in the result, let’s hope that they can take that into the next match and perhaps get an early goal with will surely open the game up to Albion’s advantage.
This was always going to be a massive week with three massive games. The first has been negotiated successfully if not without challenges, attention now turns to part two.