West Bromwich Albion 3 Rotherham United 0
The turnaround that Carlos Corberán has instigated at the Hawthorns in the last two months is nothing short of remarkable. Albion eased to their fifth successive victory on Saturday without really breaking sweat with a confident performance that produced their first three goal victory since the 5-2 win over Hull City in August.
It really does make you wonder what Steve Bruce and his coaching team were doing with this group of players. Corberán may have benefitted from a fit Daryl Dike and Tom Rogić in the last two games, but the rest of the squad also look transformed, confident and, I’ve said it before, coached. Every man knows what is expected of him and looks comfortable in their roles, something that rarely happened in Steve Bruce’s tenure.
Make no mistake, Albion weren’t great against Rotherham. The Millers were well organised, tough to break down and also neat and tidy in possession, but Corberán’s team did not panic and kept playing the patterns that have evidently been drummed into them, and the breakthrough after twenty minutes. Rogić’s delightful through ball released Jed Wallace and he finished coolly slotting past Millers’ ‘keeper, Viktor Johansson.
From that point on, the result was never really in doubt. Even while the lead was just by the one goal, the hosts looked completely in control. Rotherham had plenty of possession, the stats show it as even across the match, but Albion’s defensive solidity was such that Palmer was only called into serious action once, coming out to block at the feet of Chiedozie Ogbene early in the second half.
The second goal came just before the hour mark when Grady Diangana scored with his first touch after coming on as a substitute converting Jed Wallace’s cross with a volley that Johansson could not keep out. Two substitutes scored for Albion for the second match in succession when Brandon Thomas-Asante finally netted as he fired home a rebound after his penalty, dubiously awarded in my opinion, had been saved by the Millers’ Swedish stopper.
The Albion Head Coach tweaked his starting line up bringing in Daryl Dike for his first start since January, and Tom Rogić for just his second start in a Baggies shirt, and his first since making his debut in the defeat to Swansea CIty at the beginning of October. With Brandon Thomas-Asante and Jayson Molumby dropping to the bench, it was a tweak in the midfield setup from Corberán with the three made up from two natural number tens, and once ‘six’ in Okay Yokuşlu.
It was a change that worked, but primarily because Okay was absolutely superb in his defensive midfield role. It has taken a while for the Turk to get back to full fitness and he is now looking like the player that impressed so much for Albion in the Premier League two seasons ago. He was everywhere against Rotherham covering both sides of the pitch as he sought to block off any route the opposition might find to attack the Albion defence, and he also won eight aerial challenges, five more than anyone else on the field. His passing stats may not look great at 72.6% accuracy, but Okay is always looking to play the progressive ball, and that is often the more dangerous pass – this is demonstrated by the fact that two thirds of his attempted passes were forward according to WhoScored.com.
The algorithm on that site gave the man-of-the-match award to Jed Wallace, unsurprising given his key match impacts of a goal and an assist, but also recognised the positive impact of the two full backs. Conor Townsend, in particular, caught my eye – after a very shaky performance against Sunderland including the silly challenge that led to the hosts’ penalty, he was so much better on Saturday at both ends of the pitch. He put in one sumptuous through ball in the third minute to put Matt Phillips in on the left, and it set the tone for him as he produced what was his best display for some weeks.
The other man to really stand out for me was Tom Rogić – as well as his assist for the opening goal, he was so neat and tidy in possession keeping the ball moving well, linking up excellently with John Swift. He was at the centre of what was a very fluid attacking formation with none of the front five wedded to any particularly position. Wallace and Phillips roamed freely while Dike, although not really troubling the goalkeeper in this match, showed no shortage of effort and I am sure he will have been delighted to start a match and not leave it injured!
I said in my preview how the game is becoming much more based around sixteen players rather than eleven, and that was shown again in this game. Two goals from substitutes and those that didn’t score, Molumby, Grant and Gardner-Hickman, all contributed in some way as Albion struck a balance in the closing minutes between seeing the game out and looking for a fourth.
It was as comfortable a victory as we have seen since the last promotion season and it seems unbelievable to think that, should the Baggies make it six successive wins at Coventry on Wednesday night, they will celebrate Christmas in eighth place.