West Bromwich Albion 1 Wigan Athletic 0
It was a game in which the result was far more important than the performance for Albion and, while the 1-0 scoreline did not reflect the superiority that the hosts enjoyed in over the ninety minutes, it did mean that the final few minutes of the match were a little more nervy than they should have been.
Before the goal, Albion looked a little laboured and the whole game was a little flat. The fluidity of passing that we saw in the early stages of the Middlesbrough game was absent and the hosts struggled to make any sort of impact on a solid Wigan Athletic defence. The goal itself owed much to the work of Daryl Dike who did really well in holding up the ball received from Albrighton, and flicking it over into the path of Jayson Molumby. The Irishman’s left-footed shot troubled the Latic’s ‘keeper, Ben Amos, and he could only push it upwards – the Baggies have been cursing their luck of late but, on this occasion, fortune smiled and the ball dropped onto the crossbar and back into play perfectly onto the head of Dike and the American calmly nodded it into the net for his third goal in three games.
As happened at Hull on Friday, the goal changed the game. This time it was in Albion’s favour and, while the hosts had never looked troubled in their own box before the opener, they looked much more threatening in attacking areas from that point on and really should have added to their goal tally before the break. Dike produced a wonderful bit of skill in receiving Furlong’s forceful pass, flicking it up and firing at goal on the turn, but Amos parried it well, and Dara O’Shea had a glorious chance from a John Swift free kick that he could only head over the bar.
The Baggies’ dominance continued after the break with Conor Townsend testing Amos from distance, Wallace striking the post and Swift seeing a volley come back off the crossbar. However, as the game drew to a close, Albion’s failure to secure the result with a second goal led to a few scares at the other end as the visitors pushed for an equaliser. Josh Griffiths, who was completely untroubled for the first eighty minutes of the match was called into action twice in the closing minutes, but was able to save well on both occasions and secured his second clean sheet in an Albion shirt.
Corberán once again switched his front players around in the second half with Albrighton switching to the right and Swift out to the left but, on this occasion, I felt that it didn’t stunt Swift’s influence on the game as it has done previously. Molumby was withdrawn before the hour mark with, perhaps, Corberán having one eye on the Irishman’s yellow card tally that would see him handed a two-match ban should he get booked again before the international break. Nathaniel Chalobah replacing him and the former Fulham man did a decent job in the middle of the park without really standing out either positively or negatively.
Swift moved back into the centre when Reach replaced Albrighton for the last twenty minutes while Corberán will be concerned as to the fitness of Erik Pieters after he hobbled off at the same time, to be replaced by Semi Ajayi. The Dutchman had been withdrawn in the Boro match having picked up a knock, and it is not clear if this was a recurrence of that injury, but Ajayi came on and looked solid enough for the remainder of the game.
It is perhaps notable that Dike completed back-to-back ninety minutes for the first time in his Albion career. He did play ninety minutes in successive league games at Luton Town and Burnley in January, but those games were a week apart and the Baggies had the FA Cup replay with Chesterfield in between them – this is the first time he has completed two full games with only a few days’ rest, and that is a big milestone in his return to fitness. There is a chance that Brandon Thomas-Asante could be fit for the game with Huddersfield Town at the weekend, but it is by no means certain – a fit Daryl Dike is proving crucial at present.
Last night’s fixtures tidied up the Championship table for the time being, at least, in that every club has played 35 games. With eleven games to go, the Baggies have 51 points and are four points short of a play-off place. If they can earn points at a rate of two points per game for the remainder of the season, it should be enough – the average points required for a top six spot since the turn of the century is 74, the lowest is 68 and the highest is 81. 22 from the last 11 matches will give the Baggies 73 – no guarantee but, with Sunderland, Norwich City and Millwall all to visit the Hawthorns, they have the opportunity to damage their rivals’ chances – getting the points in the right games could be crucial.