Diangana inspires Baggies to deserved three points

West Bromwich Albion 2 Queen’s Park Rangers 0

A goal and an assist for Grady Diangana was the least his performance deserved as Carlos Corberán was able to celebrate a year in charge at the Hawthorns with what was ultimately a comfortable 2-0 victory over QPR.

The teamsheets sparked surprise, less so for the one change that Corberán made to the starting eleven replacing Mowatt with Okay, but for the inclusion of youngsters Josh Shaw and Layton Love on the bench. It transpired that Conor Townsend was ill and Semi Ajayi had a minor ankle injury requiring some reinforcements from the youth squad. With Caleb Taylor, Akeel Higgins and Tom Fellows keeping their places amongst the replacements, the presence of so many youngsters on the bench was demonstrative of the injury problems that Corberán faces at the moment. That would get worse before the end of the evening as Cédric Kipré limped off in the second half with a knee injury that the Head Coach fears may be serious.

Some impatient and unimpressed Albion fans booed the team off at half time, understandable you might think following three halves of goalless football, but short-sighted given how the visitors had approached the game and the lack of attacking options available at present.

Not surprisingly given their recent form, Ainsworth had set Rangers up with a low block and for the first forty-five minutes, Albion lacked the guile to break them down. They were patient, probed from side to side but despite one or two promising moments and a half-chance for BTA who could only prod Diangana’s cross meekly into the arms of Rangers’ ‘keeper Asmir Begović, it was undoubtedly a frustrating watch. Had Townsend been fit, I feel sure he would have started ahead of Pieters who had a difficult afternoon on Saturday, and his attacking abilities might have created a few more openings. The Dutchman was far too slow in his decision-making and, as a result, Phillips was always under pressure if he ever did receive the ball from him – Townsend, I feel, would have been much quicker and more adventurous in his attacking play. The occasional jeering directed at Pieters can hardly have helped his confidence which has evidently take a knock of late. Diangana and Thomas-Asante were trying to offer themselves, either short or over the top, and a few balls behind the defence were attempted with little success.

After half time, the one change I noticed was that that Diangana was hugging the touchline with Furlong playing more of a central midfield role than a wing back. I’ve always felt that Grady operates at his best as a proper winger and it was a switch that bore dividends. Whether it was via Furlong or over the top from the other side of the pitch, it became clear that Grady was enjoying more freedom from a deeper wider position and was able to run at his full back. Just before the hour mark, it got its reward when he bamboozled Kenneth Paal and drew the foul, referee James Bell pointing to the spot straight away. In the aftermath of the award, Jimmy Dunne, who had a few minutes earlier received a yellow card for re-joining the pitch without the referee’s permission, received a second caution and was sent off. After the match, Gareth Ainsworth suggested it may have been for “roughing up” the penalty spot, or it could have been for dissent – either way, Rangers were down to ten and Thomas-Asante positively lashed the ball into the roof of the net for his first goal since August.

While it was a clear turning point in the game, Albion had been completely on top already and it was nothing more than they deserved. Diangana continued to terrorise the R’s defence and almost made it two when his curling shot struck the post, before he did get the goal his display deserved when he fired home from six yards after a jinking run from Nathaniel Chalobah.

Tom Fellows came off the bench again for the last fifteen minutes, this time replacing Matt Phillips who took a well-earned rest. Once again, he looked lively and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was to get a start at Coventry. Wallace has looked below par in recent matches and looks like he needs a rest – Fellows looks like he could be a decent replacement and a role from the start would be a massive boost for him.

The goals produced a change in the confidence of Albion’s players, as well as a massive change in the atmosphere at the Hawthorns which had been deathly quiet for much of the first half. When I wrote about the expectation of three points in my match preview, it was as much about the levels of expectation amongst a section of the fan base that have been brought up on Premier League football at the Hawthorns, than anything else. The Hawthorns is currently a place where the spectators are waiting to be entertained, rather than encouraging the team to perform – sure, it is very much a chicken-and-egg scenario, but there appears to be very little patience amongst some. With a very limited budget and a raft of injuries, Corberán is still getting reasonable results and has the side in a play-off place that I, for one, would bite your hands off for come the end of the season.

Jayson Molumby takes aim late on

Speaking of injuries, it looks like Kipré may be out for an extended period which is a massive shame for the Frenchman who had been enjoying an excellent season. It is at least in an area where Albion do have cover, with Semi Ajayi and Caleb Taylor able to come in. Ajayi missed this match with a minor injury which will hopefully not keep him out of Monday’s game, and Taylor replace Kipré making only his second Championship appearance, and his first since starting the final game of the 2021/22 season against Barnsley. With Ajayi likely to be heading of the the Africa Cup of Nations in January, Taylor is likely to get plenty of opportunities in the coming months.

Since Corberán took over twelve months ago, Albion have played 43 games, winning 21 at an impressive win rate of 49% and picking up 72 points at 1.67 points per game. Given the challenges of budget and injuries, that is a hugely impressive record and, as a result, the Baggies are currently in the top six. OK, it is still early in the season, but this side was languishing at the other end of the table when the Spaniard took over – it is a remarkable turnaround.

Now, however, we look to a trip to Coventry City on Monday, the team that put a dent in Corberán’s near perfect record in the run up to Christmas last year. If they can pick up a second away win of the season at a ground at which the Baggies have an excellent record, it will put them in great shape ahead of the visit of Hull City the following weekend.

Related posts