West Bromwich Albion 0 Sheffield United 2
Any Baggies fans expecting an immediate impact from Carlos Corberán and his coaching team would have been bitterly disappointed with the first half performance on Saturday as familiar defensive errors led to two goals for the visitors. While there were signs of improvement after the break, the display simply highlighted the size of the job that the Spaniard is taking on, and it is important for the Albion supporters and the club hierarchy to give him sufficient time to turn things around.
There were a smattering at boos at both half time and full time, which I hope were aimed at the players rather than the new coaching team and, while I understand that fans are entitled to express their opinion, I’m not sure that it is particularly helpful in the current situation. For me, the biggest issue that needs solving is the lack of confidence throughout the squad and that can only happen if the players are able to make mistakes as long as they are trying to do the right thing. Even that will take time – on Saturday, the players were clearly anxious not to make mistakes, particularly in the first half, looking for the easy ball rather than the more difficult but more progressive one. To address that mindset, Corberán needs to build confidence in the players’ own abilities, confidence in their teammates and also confidence in the tactical set up. If he is successful in that, the players will first of all believe that they won’t make an error, but also, that if they do, their teammates and the tactical organisation will minimise the impact.
For some supporters, there are players there that have been found wanting far too often to be rehabilitated, but Corberán may have a different view. None of the players in the Albion squad are bad footballers and all of them are capable of contributing to the team given the right motivation, tactical instruction, coaching and conditions. It may be that some of them will not fit into Corberán’s plans, but supporters may have to accept that one or two of their least favourite characters may be involved going forward in spite of the view that they have let down multiple head coaches and managers in recent years. Just because the likes of Allardyce, Bruce and Ismaël have been unable to get players to perform does not mean that the new man will not. You only have to look at Serge Gnabry’s loan spell at the Hawthorns for proof of that.
I guess it was too much to ask for a turnaround in three days’ training, and there wasn’t a discernible improvement if we’re honest. Albion did look better after the break, whether that was down to United deciding to protect their lead or if the hosts did step up is not clear, but with a bit of luck or better finishing, the Baggies could easily have scored one or two and it may have been something of a confidence boost. Unfortunately, that did not happen and the Hawthorns was once again flat and there will not be much optimism for Tuesday’s visit of Blackpool given the limited time between games.
One player that I felt could hold his head up high is Taylor Gardner-Hickman – for me, he was easily Albion’s man-of-the-match, constantly asking for the ball and always looking for the progressive pass. He put in another couple of excellent cross-field passes similar to the one that brought the first goal at Reading and refused to hide as a number of his teammates did. Jayson Molumby also did his reputation with the new boss no harm at all with an energetic and committed spell off the bench.
Matt Phillips kept his place in the side and certainly split opinion amongst fans and journalists for his performance. Starting at right wing back, although I was unsure as to whether he was the right side of midfield in a 4-3-3 rather than a 3-4-3 for much of the first half, he switched to a number ten role after the break as Corberán opted for a 4-2-3-1 to try to recover the game. I thought he did OK but, on occasion, demonstrated the lack of confidence that is rife throughout the squad.
The biggest concerns were in defence with both goals far too easily conceded. Dara O’Shea has suffered in recent months and his fixation on the ball for the second goal allowed McBurnie to give himself the space to cut inside and finish well when he eventually did receive the pass. The young Irishman hasn’t become a bad defender overnight, but constant switching between defensive partners and formations cannot have helped and he needs some consistency in coaching and the chance to rebuild confidence in himself and his defensive partners.
It is just one of the myriad problems that face the new head coach and, while we all hope that results can improve quickly, we may have to be prepared for a few more poor results before Corberán’s impact is properly felt.
A mid-season world cup could well be a benefit for Albion with the break allowing a clear four weeks between the home match with Stoke City on 12th November and the trip to Sunderland on 19th December. Not only will that allow the Spaniard to work with his existing squad, it will give him the opportunity to assess the changes to the squad he would like to make in January.
We can only hope that the next three games will produce enough points to at least keep Albion in touch if not lift them out of the bottom three. If not, it will be a real relegation battle come January.