One dream ends for Albion but there is hope for another

Southampton 3 West Bromwich Albion 1

Albion’s season finally came to an end on the south coast on Friday evening ending the dream of an unlikely promotion in this campaign, but the sense of pride in what they achieved remains, and there is hope for the future in abundance.

On the night, Southampton proved to be the better side, and the Baggies can have no complaints about the result. Carlos Corberán’s game plan worked well for the first half but one misplaced pass when trying to exploit space opened up on the opposite side of the field, gave the hosts an opportunity and Smallbone capitalised fully with a superb finish.

From that point on, Albion were chasing the game and, bar one snap shot from Furlong, they never looked like getting back into it. The penalty for the Saints third looked a little soft, and 3-0 would have been a harsh result. It was perhaps fitting that most people’s player of the season, Cédric Kipré, had the final say on what has been a good campaign for Corberán’s team.

There is no doubt that the Baggies outperformed expectations this season and the biggest positive was the change of ownership. Unlike other clubs who have failed to achieve promotion, I’m sure that Albion will not be changing their head coach with plenty of opposition fans suggesting to me over the season that Corberán is among the best in the division. His presence, alone, is a source of optimism and with a new owner at the helm, it could well be the start of something special.

I’m not expecting Shilen Patel to pump in lots of money, but I am no longer concerned for the future of the club. It’s difficult to predict what will happen over the summer but I’m sure there are plenty of plans already in place. With the likes of Kipré, Mowatt, Bartley, Phillips and others out of contract, and a need to balance the wage budget, there will undoubtedly be some departures and I’m sure not all of them will be universally welcome.

Excluding loan signings, there are ten players out of contract in the summer and a further nine who have one year left so there is plenty of scope for an overhaul. Too many changes is, of course, a dangerous approach particularly when the team has been relatively successful, but some difficult choices will need to be taken to recover from the poor decisions of the past.

This season, Corberán has largely had to make the best of what he had, and has definitely improved several players with Diangana, Furlong, Kipré and Mowatt those who have most obviously benefitted from his coaching. The inspired loan signing of Mikey Johnston added a little sparkle to the side and one would hope that there can be a few more like him brought into the side with some squad space freed up by some of the less desirable out-of-contract players.

Martin Kelly, Erik Pieters, Adam Reach, Nathaniel Chalobah and Yann M’Vila are all at the end of their deals and I would not be offering any of them new terms. Phillips and Bartley, both good servants to the club and having performed well this season, are also out of contract and I’m not sure either would be on my retained list unless they could be persuaded to take a significant wage cut. Kipré and Mowatt are the obvious candidates for extensions assuming they would like to stay.

The summer will bring whatever it brings, and it will be interesting to see what Corberán can build with a little more freedom. For now, it’s time for thanks and appreciation for what he, his coaching staff and the team have achieved this season. It’s been largely fun to watch and, while it was a little painful at the end, the overriding feeling is one of hope for the future.

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